Block + Tackle
When chef Trent Pierce’s much-loved Hawthorne fish house Fin closed on Valentine’s Day 2011 with little advance notice, it was kind of like when the Red Sea parted…everyone was stunned, and then they sort of gaped disbelievingly, and the fish were flopping around everywhere saying thanks a heap, and then someone (not Moses this time, someone else) was like, we can make it through this together, there’s something great on the other side, and then everyone moved forward and life went on. (Yes, I did in fact sleep through most of Sunday school, but I picked up the important bits).
And it was all true, because more than two years after Fin’s sorrowful departure from the relatively seafood-thin Portland dining scene, Pierce has finally realized his dormant dream of re-opening a fish-focused restaurant. Two of them, even. After exploring a ramen concept, Wafu, while simultaneously opening and perfecting his high-end seafood restaurant, Roe, in the tiny back room behind the kitchen, he was able to retire Wafu, reinvent its long, narrow dining room with a ship’s wheel, a few dozen glass floats, and a lot of netting and voila, Block + Tackle washed up on Division Street’s increasingly tasty shores.
The creamy crab dip has so many chunks of meat in it even the most competitive eaters cease trying to dig around with their crackers to find the best bits and accept that there’s abundance for all.
Fruits of the sea rule this menu, but in stark contrast to exquisite little Roe, where every fish dish doubles as fine art and the all-in chef’s tasting menu for two with moderate alcohol consumption will set you back a month’s worth of good chocolate (assuming your consumption is currently at two $5 bars per day), Block and Tackle’s plates are less fussy and surprisingly affordable.
That’s not to say however, that any less care goes into conceiving each one. The Niçoise salad is a prime example–soft chunks of smoked salmon and tender slabs of albacore over arugula, crisp green beans and new potatoes in a briny olive vinaigrette, flanked by two halves of a perfect 7-minute egg, comprises one of the most appealing translations I’ve had. The seafood cocktail marries Dungeness crab, bay shrimp and scallops over an avocado puree so silky you’ll need a minuscule spatula to get every last drop of it out of the glass, and the creamy crab dip has so many chunks of meat in it even the most competitive eaters cease trying to dig around with their crackers to find the best bits and accept that there’s abundance for all.
The smoked mackerel with watermelon, watercress, inky cured olives, mint and cayenne is mesmerizing, and you might find yourself saying involuntarily, on repeat, “this was only 11 dollars?“, while the hearty halibut fish and chips will satisfy even the most fundamental diner in your party, as will the clam chowder with homemade oyster crackers. Gourmands and adventurers will want to investigate the “seafood charcuterie” region of the menu, with its unusual marlin rillettes, ono confit, and pimenton-cured cuttlefish with orange and sherry. Desserts are few and simple, and refreshingly, never too sweet or cloying, like the apricot cobbler in a pool of warm milk, berry shortcake, and salted butterscotch pudding beneath Chantilly cream.
So chart this fun fishouse as your course the next time someone you know is lamenting Portland’s few fishy options and could benefit from a few rounds of Rum Siren cocktails and a bowl of chowder, or if you just feel like celebrating your miraculous escape from the pharaoh’s armies with a dozen Fanny Bays on the half shell and a bottle of sparkling Vouvray (the best way to celebrate anything, really).
Executive Chef: Trent Pierce
Owner: Trent Pierce
Atmosphere: Long, narrow nautical-themed space that's half dining room, half bar, with a big communal table in the middle
Outdoor seating: Sidewalk tables
Best Seat: I like a table for two in the front window, but the bar is fun too
Noise Level: Normal to Lively
Dress Code: Casual
Bring the Kids: Yes
Bathrooms: Turn right past the bar, walk in front of the kitchen and down the hall
Parking: Street parking is free and can be challenging to find in the immediate area, try a residential side street
Cocktails: Signature cocktails ($8-$10) and full bar
Wine: Sparkling, rosé, whites and reds by the glass ($6-$12) and bottle ($24-$95)
Teetotalers: Mexican Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Fentiman’s Tonic, Boylans Birch Soda, Boylans Seltzer, Cock ‘n’ Bull Ginger Beer, Lemonade
Ideal Meal: Raw oysters, seafood cocktail, Niçoise salad, crab dip, halibut n chips, smoked mackerel and watermelon salad, berry shortcake, butterscotch pudding
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Good for the following occasions: Fish n Chips With Friends, Casual Date Night, Dining Solo, Just Desserts
Reservations: Yes, call 503.236.0205 or reserve online at Open Table