Restaurant Reviews

Lolita

July/August 2014

Grill On The Hill

Sparks fly at the East End’s newest hot spot.

Review by Diane Hudson

lolita_portlandThe open-sesame to Lolita is a simple metal door. Architect Lauren Reiter, whose husband Neil Reiter co-owns Lolita with chef and proprietors Guy and Stella Hernandez, is responsible for the revelation inside. Lighting, colors, and fixtures contribute to a relaxed, elegant experience. There is table seating for 20, with 10 more at the bar.

The centerpiece, an enormous grill roaring with flames (kiln-dried red oak, about a cord a month), is fitted with steel racks that are raised or lowered with a neat little wheel. It’s fascinating to watch and central to Lolita’s experience, “vinoteca + asador”–Spanish for good wine and a specialty in grilling.

There’s a bright red deli slicer. A menu category “From the Slicer” features cured meats, imported and local (jamon Serrano $12 and salumi $6.50 each, or 3 for $18). These include bresaola, crespone, and finochietta, sliced to order. Violino di capra, is a cured meat that translates to “goat violin” because the leg is shaped like a violin. Traditionally, it’s passed around and held like an instrument, each diner cutting meat with a knife-as-bow. Our violino is actually lamb and exudes deep, pleasant flavors.

We proceed to “Toasts, Pots, and Snacks” ($4 each or 3 for $10) and try a tasty steak tartare and a mix of local mushrooms with thyme and garlic confit. A little pot of velvet-smooth chicken liver mousse follows with full, round flavors. Spreading it on warm sourdough bread, the deal is sealed.

We ask our server, Montana, about the mousse’s ingredients. He reports graciously that “Guy says he’ll be happy to give you the recipe.” Well, now, that’s refreshing.

As is the Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza 2011 tempranillo ($11/glass), which proves to be a good accompaniment for the entire dinner.

We leap over the smalls ($9 each), reluctantly bypassing marrow bones with pea shoots, to the mediums ($14 each), from which we order heirloom beans with pork belly and duck confit. The flavor-absorbing result is a bowlful of smoky goodness.

We watch as hardshell clams are placed on the grill and basted with a butter, wine, and fresh herb mixture as they open ($14).

On to “Large” ($24), as we share the evening’s asado–grilled hanger steak on a bed of zesty salsa verde surrounded by very good roasted vegetables which we request in lieu of fingerlings. Lolita is flexible–you can get what you want here.

Desserts that beckon include cheesecake mousse, rhubarb, toasted oats ($7), chocolate cake with amaretto cream ($7), gelato with shot of espresso ($5), and warm milk and cookies ($4). A good selection of farm cheeses ($5 each, 3 for $13) includes Lakin’s Gorges Prix de Diane from Rockport and Green Mountain Blue Cheese Madison from Vermont.

We complete the meal with cocktails as a sweet finale. “De La Louisiane #2” ($10) is a mix of bourbon, benedictine, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s Bitters, pernod rinse, and an in-house brandied cherry.

I choose “The Last Word” ($10)–Gin, chartreuse, luxardo, and lime. Delicious. The last word here, for Lolita, and us, is Yes.