June 25, 2015

First Look at Terlingua - Opening Tonight!

My friends Melanie and Pliny Reynolds are opening a restaurant on Washington Avenue, called Terlingua (opening tonight at 5pm!). I am predisposed to love it, since I a) love Mel and Plin and b) have always enjoyed any of the food they prepare. Pliny lived in Austin for a while, so he's got the barbecued meats thing on lock. Their friend Wil Rothschild is in the kitchen, and every time Wil's made dinner or brought some dish to a potluck, it's always amazing too. Wil has cooked in the Caribbean, and his bold use of seasonings on seafood reflects that. 

Terlingua occupies the former home of Chez Biso Na Biso on Washington Ave., a few doors down from Silly's. Pliny and his construction team peeled back the layers of "renovations" in the space, gave the systems a much needed upgrade, and slowly brought the space back to an usable restaurant. They've upcycled the poured concrete bar from El Rayo's Cantina and stools and tables from Nosh. The space is painted a cheerful red, but is lightened up by the lathe that covers behind the bar and separates the kitchen from the dining room - but still provides a bit of permeability, allowing the excitement of the kitchen to spill over without being distracting. 

Joe Ricchio is behind the bar on Mondays and Saturdays and was pouring drinks for the friends and family dinner I attended on Tuesday. The draught beer selection is Dogfish Head-heavy, as Pliny is related to a brewer there, and I enjoyed a Jolly Pumpkin sour. That night there was also a spicy margarita (MargaRicchio) and some delightfully dry red sangria. 

To start, I enjoyed the pork belly chicharron and the smoked fish dip; the other starters are a lettuce leaf salad, red snapper ceviche, a summer corn salad, and shell-on shrimp. 

Everything was fantastic - the pork belly that hard-to-achieve combo of tender, but cooked enough to render the fat palatable, then topped with the crunchy pork skin. The whitefish was very smoky and flecked with crunchy bits of onions and peppers. The accompanying habanero dip added a nice slow burn. 

A. and I shared the red chili with smoked brisket (pictured below is large portion; it's also available as a half), and we had a hard time choosing it over the green chili with smoked pork. Other entrees include a veggie empanada, stuffed poblanos, pozole, beef tongue and cheek tacos, and a barbecue board, that night featuring brisket. The entree prices range from $7-10 for half portions and $13-18 for full (can I tell you how much I love that they offer half portions??). 

The chili was nice and smoky - flavorful, but not too spicy, and the brisket was very tender. The salty farmers cheese, diced onions, and cilantro were the perfect toppings. 

For dessert, we enjoyed a perfectly gooey tres leches cake, made by East End Cupcakes, with a crustless pecan pie and a housemade apple pie or sorbet available too.

Terlingua nails it right out of the gate - fantastic food; a friendly, neighborhood vibe; and prices that will allow you to pop in frequently. I'm so happy to see my friends realizing their dream of opening this restaurant in Portland, and hope that once you get there, you love this casual, barbecue-ish restaurant as much as I do.