I’ve been looking at the lights of District for over 4 months now. Literally a stones throw from our apartment, the Missus and I have found ourselves saying over and over again, “We really need to check it out.” But, as days became weeks and then turned into months, we found ourselves still saying but never going. So, when the ‘Fine Dining’ was the next theme of our reviews, and I saw that District was available, I chose it to finally force our stomachs into going– especially after hearing a friend call their burger one of the best in the area.
I will say that my one regret is that we didn’t go at night, instead opting for a lunch visit late last week. The space, which was extremely quiet at lunch time, has a larger interior than the outside lets on and I could easily imagine the space packed with happy, buzzy diners. I wanted to see it at it’s full stride because it felt like we were seeing it a bit out of context. It’s not that the service lacked(in fact our waiter was very sweet and engaging and obviously loved working there) or that the food was sub-par(nothing could be further from the truth, in fact)–it was just the space itself seemed awkward not full of people. Of course, this desire to see it at it’s full potential just motivates me more to get us over there for dinner sooner than later. The quality of the food also already has me wanting to go back.
Falling at the beginning of Restaurant Week, we had their lunch menu available to us–which included a full offering of their apps and a few sandwiches–as well as a special 3 course (app, entree and dessert) offering for only $15. I will say that I was a bit miffed that my burger cost($12.00) nearly as much as the Missus’ choice for the special menu, but that was soon dissolved when her choice of in house made charcuterie arrived and she cared enough to share it with me.
A perfect quinelle of duck rillette, paired with caperberries, cornichons, mustard and crostini. From the first bite, we were believers. The rillette, one of many offerings of in house made charcuterie, was one of the best we’ve had in Portland–and we’ve had some damn fine rillettes in this town, from the former Evangeline to Bar Lola. It was creamy, flecked with whole grain mustard and cornichons and had the perfect amount of gaminess from the duck. I wanted to walk upstairs to the kitchen and give a giant hug to the chef who made it and ask him for a mason jar of it for the road.
But, you’re here for the burger, right? Now, I will admit that this is probably the first and only time I’ve ordered a hamburger at an upscale restaurant. I don’t equate the two at all in my head. Upscale dining gives you dishes you can’t make at home while it tends to be the greasy spoons that give you the burger you rave about for the rest of your life. However, it can easily be said that District makes a hell of a burger.
House cured bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato confit and the ever popular brioche bun combined with a huge 1 1/2 inch thick patty cooked to a beautiful–just slightly over rare–medium temperature and a whopping side of fries. I assume, because so much of what District offers on it’s menu is house made and local, that the beef was ground on site and traveled less than 100 miles to get to their door. Beautifully marbled meat made for an interesting time of trying to out pace the juices that ran down my chin. Though, I must admit, it was a bit odd to be wiping it away with a crisp linen napkin instead of a throw away paper one. But, it was worth the effort as the burger was beautifully seasoned and satisfying.
The ‘buttered bun’ was a fine vessel for the dense patty, airy crumb and slightly toasted. The bacon, thick cut,slightly smoky and crisp seemed to melt into the fat of the burger and made for the perfect meld of beef and pork. The cheese, a cheddar, was something I actually never order on a burger, was alright though it didn’t seem plentiful enough, or sharp enough, to really stand up to density of the whole thing. But, we know my affinity for cheese and sometimes it needs to be pretty definitive to stand out. The only thing that was kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing was the tomato confit–which I’m still not sure that was the dressing on the burger– that was below the bibb lettuce leaf beneath the patty. It gave a slight acidic note the whole burger but, for the most part, was lost beneath the richness. After a week of barely eating,the whole meal proved to be too indulgent and half the plate came home that evening to also be my dinner.
Now, was it the best burger in Portland, as a friend mentioned? Sadly, it was not–but I didn’t really expect it to be. I expect them to rock my face off with bone marrow salads, braised beef and Schnitzel–not a burger. In fact, I would say that the pulled pork sandwich that the Missus had as part of her RW menu was a slight step above the burger as far as all around enjoyable. But, because the burger was as good as it was, and because that little taste of the duck rillette sent us over the edge with joy, we’re more likely to pop around the corner for a bite to eat–and you should too. It’s obvious, by the care, flavor balance and presentation, that there’s a hell of a lot of talent in that upstairs kitchen and I can’t wait to see what else they can do.