Bread & Brew

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Trifecta Tavern in Southeast Portland specializes in fresh bread, vintage cocktail recipes and oyster dishes, including the Oysters Trifecta - oysters baked in their shells with leeks and hollandaise.Trifecta Tavern has that third restaurant feel: confident, expansive, smartly designed.

It’s the latest project from Ken Forkish, of Ken’s Artisan Bakery and Ken’s Artisan Pizza, and it continues his exploration of the possibilities of flour, water, salt and yeast. But this time bread is a sidekick, and oysters are the stars.

The tavern tips its hat to pre-Prohibition oyster bars with tufted ottomans in the waiting area, a long marble-topped bar, and old oyster tins for decoration. The cocktail menu showcases classic New Orleans cocktails like the sazerac and vieux carre, along with assorted smashes and swizzles.

Trifecta’s version of a Manhattan contains rye and a lemon twist, which is allegedly the authentic, original recipe. This makes for a more buoyant, less maple-flavored drink than the more common bourbon-and-cherry Manhattan. It’s a nice change of pace, although one might argue that the drink has evolved pretty successfully.

By contrast, the Champagne Flip has been lost in the mists of time. Its combination of cognac, Cointreau, sparkling wine and raw egg yolk sounds downright hazardous by today’s standards, but as practiced at Trifecta, it’s a lovely, frothy drink with a zing like meringue.

Drinking snacks are plentiful, ranging from pickles to french fries to a single pan-fried oyster on a brioche bun. A chef’s selection of savories, which varies nightly, recently consisted of a rich, tangy pimento cheese croquette, a crostini smeared with a mild chicken liver pate, and delicate, brittle, spicy little chips made of sunchoke.

Deviled eggs also change in style daily, but the night I had them they were very plain. Each had a different garnish — a wisp of pickle on one, a nub of bacon on another — that didn’t really add anything to their chilled creaminess.

The house salad was much more fulfilling — a big platter of leafy greens, contrasting with a spicy confetti of crisped salami. Pickled asparagus played escort, along with a slice of grilled rye bread topped with simple fromage blanc.

Good bread and fresh-shucked oysters are a match made in heaven, and you can order raw oysters here plucked from a massive hill of fresh ice. The combination doesn’t work quite as well with the oyster stew, which was overwhelmed with huge croutons, and was light on actual oysters.

Another configuration, the oysters Trifecta, was much more appealing. This lighter take on oysters Rockefeller coddled the oysters in nests of breadcrumbs, leeks, fennel and bacon, and blanketed them with a light, lemony hollandaise. They’re baked in a dome-shaped wood-burning oven, a central feature of the room, which also turns out everything from potatoes roasted in duck fat to oven-steamed clams to Italian-style flatbread.

One night, a special of glazed, wood-oven roasted carrots was a highlight. The carrots were tender and nearly caramelized, in a sauce that was vivid with ginger.

There are some fall-back items on the menu as well: a burger for that person who always has to have a burger, and steak frites for that person who always has to have a steak. There’s also the more extravagant “big-ass steak,” a 16-ounce ribeye served with marrow.

Trifecta is willing to be a high-end restaurant, if you want it to be. Or maybe that’s really what it wants to be. The bread-baking side of the venture is front and center, and you can stop in to pick up a fresh loaf, but only from 4 p.m. And the dessert menu is light on pastry, offering a sorbet, a soufflé, and a hot fudge sundae.

Carrot cake, another recent choice, was more like a spice cake, with several delicate layers, and plenty of creamy frosting. Sweet, crisp shards of carrot on top didn’t add anything: they had no flavor, and they fell off the cake before they could add crispness to its softness.

It was OK, but it couldn’t compete with the carrot cake I had a few weeks earlier at Roman Candle, which just happens to be another new bakery-slash-restaurant, recently opened by another prominent restaurateur. In fact, the two places have very little in common, other than signaling the latest wave of attempts to bridge the gap between Portlanders’ love of good food and hatred of formal dining.

4 to 11 p.m. daily, 726 S.E. Sixth Ave., 503-841-6675,

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