Thursday, February 12, 2009

The date night that almost wasn’t

Last night was date night. Date night is usually a pretty informal affair, often just a chance to go out to dinner and enjoy some grown-up time for a couple hours. Usually I’ll look online and come up with a suggested destination sometime earlier that day, although we often get in the car to leave with no idea where we're going.

I had recently read about a new restaurant not far from us called Ned Ludd. The reviewer was a friend of the owners, but the description of the environment (casual) and the food (wood-fired, local) appealed. Since it was early, we decided to stop somewhere for drinks first. I’m partial to sangria (although it's not really sangria-weather here) so we headed over to Toro Bravo first. Toro Bravo is a popular tapas restaurant, very trendy and a bit overpriced. But for a pitcher of sangria at the bar, it was a perfect choice and, due to the early hour, we got in without a problem.

Of course, once there we had the option of staying and I do admit to being tempted by their scallops. But we had a plan, and $10 for 2 scallops did seem a bit hard to justify these days, so after about a hour we took off for our dinner destination. And so began our first face-to-face encounter with the recession.

After driving past Ned Ludd by several blocks, we doubled back and pulled into the parking lot. It’s also a very trendy-looking place, in a not-so-trendy (yet) location. We got out and walked up to the doors only to find them locked. A quick glance inside confirmed that the restaurant, only open for a couple months, was closed at 7pm on a Wednesday. Hmmm. Odd, but not too surprising since now is an unequivocally bad time to be starting a high-overhead business.

We decided to head up the road to Nutshell, a vegan place we’d eaten once before on a date night, maybe 8-months ago. Nutshell also opened fairly recently, let’s say within the past 2 years. Reviews are always good and I was pleasantly surprised David suggested it, since vegan is not usually his first choice. So again, we parked and walked up to the doors, only to find them locked! Two for two at prime dinner hour in the middle of the week.

A few storefronts up the road is yet another fairly recent addition, Lincoln. Also well-reviewed and recommended although decidedly more meat-centric than our usual choices. At least here there was a sign on the door informing us that they were closed because they were cooking at the James Beard House in New York this week.

By this point we were just about to head home and fire up a pot of spaghetti but we decided to make one last stop. Lovely Hula Hands has always been good to us, and happily they were open. An established Portland-restaurant with a reputation for good, local cuisine they did not disappoint. David and I shared the ricotta and black-trumpet mushroom ravioli and the sole, both of which were delicious. And we made it home in time to watch Lost, which is often how Wednesday date night ends for us these days!

But the experience was sobering. We’d both been commenting recently that the recession didn’t seem to be effecting the restaurant business here yet, judging by past date night observations. This week indicated otherwise. And I do fear that it’s only the beginning of a very long journey. Perhaps there will be more spaghetti in our future after all.


Unknown said...

I've been writing about Portland restaurants closing on my little blog.
Just recently those who have fallen: Veganopolis, Jace Gace, Kalga, Nutshell, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others. Blossoming Lotus in Kauai just closed and here in PDX they are cutting back. So sad!

Andy Baio said...

It's funny, Ned Ludd's open every day but Wednesday. It must be their slowest night.

Strongrrl said...

Ami: wow, I had no idea! What's your blog?

Andy: well, at least they're not closed for good -- yet! I'm relieved to hear it. And looking forward to trying. Have you guys been?

Unknown said...

My blog is and Andy's sister's friend wrote a review about Ned Ludd's just recently:

Email me and let's try to get together soon!

All the best to you!