Lovely’s Lovely

We had a lovely dinner indeed at just-opened Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, the newest dining venture from the Minnick sisters, who delighted Portlanders with their charming North Portland dinner den Lovely Hula Hands for many years before closing the doors Dec. 31 for personal and staff-related reasons.  You can read their farewell letter here.

After a family and friends preview night Sunday, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty quietly opened last night at 4039 N. Mississippi, in a brand new space right next door to the now-shuttered Lovely Hula Hands. The restaurant definitely has a more modern feel, with high ceilings, massive wood ceiling beams, a row of shiny new booths, and a big roll up garage door-style front window that will render the dining room refreshingly breezy come summer. The artwork so carefully arranged on the walls has the eclectic, vintage feel Lovely Hula Hands was known for, but there is no excess of homey clutter. Everything is just so.

My friend Elizabeth and I dropped in at around 6pm tonight to find the place buzzing, filled with raucous families, quite a lot of redheads, a few hippies, and the Ned Ludd crew enjoying their night off. Children hopped up and down in the freshly lacquered booths, clamoring for the ice cream cones that were flying between the cold case at the front counter and the dining room. It’s good to be a kid at LFF, your pizza is only $6, your kid cone is discounted as well, and nobody gives you a second glance when you gleefully race the length of the restaurant, thoroughly spattered with pizza sauce and squealing something about macaroni flowers.

Having read that LFF would spotlight wood-fired pizzas and ice cream, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the menu. Turns out it’s not exclusively pizza and ice cream, but rather, has a nicely well-rounded selection of seasonal soups, salads and starters and a main dish (tonight’s was a milk-braised pork shank with Tarbais beans and rapini) in addition to the small but satisfying selection of pizzas and four rotating flavors of ice cream. The menu changes daily, you can see a current version on the website.

The half-page wine list is made up mostly of French wines, with a Barbera and a Cava thrown in, and all of the bottles are between $28 and $55 dollars, with glass pours $7-$8. The eight beers, ranging from Terminal Gravity IPA to Black Boss Porter, are all bottled. Mexican Coke, Virgil’s Root Beer, and Dry Sodas are available for teetotalers, as are two housemade sodas, which we ordered. They were fantastic, and devoid of the sickly sweetness that plagues most housemade sodas. The mint tastes like a rum-less mojito and will make you dream of summer. The lingonberry-vanilla had more vanilla bean kick than any drink purporting to contain vanilla bean that I’ve ever had.

lovelysoda

We started with the beet salad, tender roasted red beets with blood orange and avocado, a touch of vinegar that lent a nice bite, and the clean flavor of  the flawless cilantro leaves scattered atop. It was a straightforward and beautifully simple salad, which I’ve always found to be one of the Lovely kitchens’ hallmarks.

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The melted leek tart with arugula was divine, so rich and creamy, speckled with fresh herbs and peeking out from beneath a tangle of crisp, well-salted arugula leaves and a dollop of creme fraiche. Speaking of melted, the buttery crust almost did so in my mouth.

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The ahi tuna carpaccio was next, a careful arrangement of paper thin slices of tuna topped with a spirited bundle of shaved fennel, jalapeno, capers, and tart little slivers of preserved lemon. lovelycarpaccio

We didn’t think we’d be able to handle two pizzas, what with our dessert plans, so we agreed on the rapini and fennel sausage pizza. Thanks to the wood-fired oven, the crust was gorgeous–chewy, blistery, and just the right thickness. For me anyways, Michelle and Brian, who were sitting at a table across the way making faces and immature gestures, both said they would have preferred it to be crispier. For $2, you can add a farm egg or Calabrian chilies to your pizza.

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In addition to the four housemade ice creams, tonight’s flavors being citrus, salted caramel, mint stracciatella, and chocolate, the menu offered up an almond caramel tart with cognac cream. Cutting into it was like trying to fork a Big Hunk, and initially, one of us had to hold it down so the other one could secure a piece without sending it shooting off the plate and through the front window, but once the fragment of tart had been wrangled free and was in your mouth, after a few chews it almost dissolved in a swirl of almond and burnt caramel. This crust too, was incredibly light and buttery. The cognac cream was aromatic and had a tiny, pleasant burn.

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Then there was the ice cream. Michelle and Brian, whom we graciously invited over to our table, mostly because they still had half a bottle of wine, got chocolate and mint stracciatella cones. We ordered a scoop of salted caramel, which came with a soft, chewy crackle cookie. The ice cream had a lovely texture, but the consensus was that we would have liked them to have deeper darker flavor.

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I’ll always miss Lovely Hula Hands, I’m sure lots of people will. It was a special kind of place. But I’m delighted to welcome Lovely’s Fifty Fifty to the block, and wish it luck, success, and fields of macaroni flowers. I look forward to going back, and next time I’ll bring my own redhead.

4039 N. Mississippi Ave. * 503.281.4060 * www.lovelysfiftyfifty.com * Tue – Sat 5-10 pm