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We can debate all day whether The Hairy Lobster is a good name for a quirky farm-to-table restaurant in the Pearl District, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter when the food and atmosphere are this lovely.


Bread & Brew recently had the chance to sample the menu at The Hairy Lobster, just a week after its March 3 opening.

We were delightfully blown away — enchanted, excited for the potential for this fresh new spot to join Portland’s white-hot restaurant scene and push the boundaries a little bit.

Owners David and Mellisa Root — he’s head chef, she’s pastry chef — were gracious enough to chat with Bread & Brew during dinner, even while the restaurant was buzzing on a recent weeknight.

Calling themselves “nomads” who’ve cooked at swanky, high-profile spots across the country — he at Celebrity Chef Todd English’s aquarium-themed bluezoo, as well as a Las Vegas luxury hotel and Silicon Valley country club; she at two of the country’s most esteemed restaurants,Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Madera — they’ve dreamed about opening a restaurant together for the past decade.

And they chose Portland, after considering just about every city in the U.S. They listed pros and cons for every spot and drew circles around their favorite cities, Mellisa recalls. Portland was at the top of both of their lists.

“It’s the relationship between chefs, customers and farmers,” David explains. “This is a bizarre place. What’s going on here is amazing. TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - The Hairy Lobster is now part of the restaurant scene in the Pearl District.On this scale — chefs, farmers and ranchers talk about what they’re doing, plan for the seasons.”

Plus, both David and Mellisa grew up in Boise, where they still have family. While they’re Portland transplants, they now consider this home for the long haul.

When they started looking for spots here more than a year ago, they needed a space big enough for them both to work — he in the kitchen, she in her own pastry nook.

This space fit the bill. The shuttered Jameson restaurant, and previously Fenouil, was the 29th property they checked out in Portland.

Besides the size, architecturally, “it had good bones,” David says.

They did away with the over-the-top marble walls, kept the rustic wooden columns, added warm, modern lighting and used a pale blue color scheme to harken a Southern theme (jazz music helps set the ambience).

David’s personal collection of antique door-knockers greets guests at the entrance, and the 110-seat restaurant is made cozy by the inviting spaces: a dessert bar near Mellisa’s pastry prep area; a long chef’s counter, for a view of the cooking action; the wood-fired oven, where the dizzying aroma of fresh Winter Vegetable Bread wafts through the air.

Don’t be fooled. The Hairy Lobster is not a lobster restaurant.

It’s all about small plates — a medley of vegetables dishes, seafood and thoughtfully prepared meats, ranging from a Red Flannel Confit Duck Hash to a Caramelized Lamb and Cracklin’ Beef Shortrib.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - There isn't many lobster items on The Hairy Lobster menu.Just one lobster item was on the menu this visit — a Maine Lobster Cubano with as many textures and flavors as the ocean itself — including barbecue pork, sunchoke pickle, chile spiked aioli — all held together by vanilla-spiked cornbread.

Other dishes are just as inventive, a work-in-progress as they test them out and then tweak them, David admits.

Also on the seafood side last week were a Moroccan Spiced Tombo Tuna and a Mustard and Apple Spiked Whole Trout — whatever is fresh and available from their local vendors, David says.

Winter vegetables, especially, can be a challenge, but the Roots live to celebrate the seasons.

A silky Oregon Foraged Mushroom Bisque popped with the addition of pickled morels, and a Winter Carrot Fritto Misto — brined and tempura battered, on a bed of fennel and goat cheese — is a whimsical, surprisingly hearty dish.

The restaurant uses china like your grandma used to use, a classy touch that spotlights their old world-meets-new world theme and philosophy.

Classical, “heritage” recipes are updated with modern cooking techniques, such as the 26-hour sous vide pork, mustard foam, and Mellisa’s showstopping desserts, including her take on a lemon chiffon pie — complete with sugar butterflies, cilantro sauce and a cassis-ginger sorbet.

So what’s up with The Hairy Lobster’s offbeat name?

It’s meant to be funny, tongue in-cheek, the opposite of a white tablecloth place.

“The grind of perfection sometimes doesn’t leave a lot of room for fun,” Mellisa says. “We’re not taking ourselves too seriously.”

Check it out :The Hairy Lobster, 900 N.W. 11th Ave., 971-229-1166, www.thehairylobster.com

@jenmomanderson

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