It was a foodie's siren call, "Last month's reservations sold out in 25 minutes!" So I was online, locked and loaded when the February seats went on sale for Holdfast Dining. This time they sold out in only seven minutes. I was one of the lucky few who scored a seat.
Holdfast Dining is the pop-up dinner experience created by chef Will Preisch. He hosts 10-12 diners per evening at the chef's counter at the KitchenCru culinary workspace in the Pearl. He is assisted by chef Joel Stocks, and they are the entire staff as they prepare, serve, and clean up a 9+ course tasting menu. The dinners are currently held Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings only. The standard price is $75 per person, which includes wine pairing (but not the tip). At times they have a six-course menu for $55.
Will Preisch came to Portland from Cleveland and draws his influences from European modernist technique. After a stint at Bent Brick, he traveled Europe to refine his techniques and focus on flavor. In my opinion, he served up the best combination of beauty and taste, without the drama of foams and spheres that add little to the flavor. I thought the meal easily held its own with the tasting menu at Castagna, and easily beat the molecular gastronomy extravaganza I had for four times the price at é by José Andrés in Las Vegas.
The diners are seated at the bar open to the culinary workspace. Will and Joel are busy plating each dish. This is "tweezer food" in the best way, each element added precisely with tweezers but rapidly served up to you on the bar. The chefs pour the wine pairings and asked us to keep our utensils unless we really thought we needed clean ones.
The line-up at the bar wasn't as conducive to conversation with the other diners as table seating would be. But Will and Joel enjoy discussing their food. It was interesting to see who else had lurked online to purchase tickets right at the minute they went on sale. One of my foodie comrades was at the far end of the bar. Other diners were 20-somethings and 30-somethings, mostly in nformal attire. Light music didn't drown out conversation. Photo-taking and food-tweeting was common. But we each had our own plate of each course, so there was no waiting while a photog took umpteen photos of a shared plate.
The menu changes each weekend. Preisch said that six of the 9 courses changed from the previous weekend. What is served depends on the season, what is available, and the inspiration of the chefs. I was delighted to see Oregon black truffle being shaved onto the first course of smoked mussels with celery and celery root.
They generally have Monday and Tuesday off to refresh and plan menus, Wednesday to shop and then they go into the weekend service mode. Preisch is thinking of adding a Monday service rather than expanding beyond 12 diners each night.
Each course was tasting menu sized, a few bites, with many elements coming together for intricate flavors. A friend who attended a previous Holdfast dinner thought it wasn't enough food. I thought it was perfect. The meal progressed rapidly and we were finished with nine courses in under two hours.
To get in on the Holdfast Dining experience, sign up for the email list for announcements of when tickets go on sale. If you miss out on the monthly sale, you will still get alerts when diners have to drop out and seats become available.
View the photo gallery to see the courses for Holdfast Dining's #55 dinner.