When Laurelhurst Market opened in 2009, it defined the new alternative steak house. It was as far from Morton’s as you could get: affordable cuts, reimagined sides, and a craft butcher counter to rival any in the city. But as the years went on, other restaurants caught up to their bovine standards. Laurelhurst, a breakaway favorite, coasted hard on their cultish staples, taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach. Now, after six years, the new-age steak house has fresh blood: Ben Bettinger (Imperial) in the kitchen and Kevin Ludwig (La Taq) behind the bar. The chef (also a Paley’s Place alum) and the noted bartender launched Beaker & Flask together, earning accolades until Bettinger’s departure in 2012. Now, Eat Beat has learned that former Paley’s Place executive chef Patrick McKee has just joined his longtime cooking buddy on the line as sous chef. But the A-list team will need more than toe-dips and window dressings to reinvent the alt-steak house.
Right now, the food still looks like Laurelhurst circa 2009, but with a thick dollop of Bettinger’s signature hedonistic comfort. The menu, with its rotating “a la carte” steaks, classic wedge salad, and potato-chip-topped mac n’ cheese, is 90-percent unchanged. (When Bettinger took the longstanding 12 Hour-Smoked Waygu Brisket off the menu, longtime customers threw a hissy fit.)
Bettinger’s new contributions are easy to spot. A starter of crumbled, creamy blood sausage tumbled with roasted beets in a tar-black swath of squid ink; crunchy, craggily fried oysters perched over celery root and thin shavings of salty carpaccio; a special of seared scallop with foie gras and salmon roe. They’re all rich, land-meets-ocean riffs, comforting enough for Laurelhurst’s cholesterol-conditioned patrons, but a new direction for the steakhouse.
A worthy addition: the new radicchio salad, garlicky, creamy, and weighted down with strips of grilled lamb heart. It gives Nostrana’s famed radicchio salad a run for its money.
Meanwhile, Ludwig works his magic at the bar, which had been freewheeling off of bartender Evan Zimmerman’s Smoke Signals cocktail since he departed in 2012. A sampling of Ludwig’s current creations, like “Flannel Sheets” (gin, lemon, Cocchi Americano, allspice, concord grape) and “Pine Tar Incident” (pear brandy, Genepy, aperol, ramazzotti, rosemary), suggests that the bartender is still on his game with balanced, complex, and always-delicious cocktails.
The trio could play things just safe enough to keep Laurelhurst humming, but two former Paley’s Place executive chefs, and a veteran mixologist like Ludwig are more than capable of reinventing the indie steak house. To make their mark, they’ll have to dig deeper: hone a new identity with a judicious menu and refined plates, with just as much crowd-pleasing power as a porterhouse and creamed spinach.
3155 E. Burnside
Hours: Everyday, 5-10pm