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La Motange in Portland

Saturday night we were in Portland and had time between a photo session of the beautiful Zahra Bean and meeting a potential bride, so we decided to go to La Montage for dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant under the east side of the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland at 5:15 to discover that the place doesn’t open until 6:00 on Saturdays. Having been there before, James suggested that rather than leaving and doing a little window shopping of the antique stores in the area, it’d be smarter to grab a cocktail at La Merde, the almost hidden bar in the back of the restaurant. We went inside and there were only three other people in the place. Chris the Bartender took our order, and within minutes I was enjoying a very good version of my second favorite cocktail, a lemondrop on the rocks.

It was tart with just the lick of sweet that made it perfect. Chris the Bartender chatted us up while we waited and he made sure that our name was on the list for a table. It was really dark back there, so dark I almost drank a snifter glass filled with condoms with the restaurant’s logo on the packaging instead of my cocktail. Not really, but I had to work in the snifter glass with condoms in it on the bar somehow.

At about 5:50, the hostess came in to lead us to our table, saying that the waiters wouldn’t be around for about 5-10 minutes, but she was seating us before the doors opened because we’d been kind enough to purchase their liquor pre-dinner. We followed her through the rear entrance and into the dimly lit restaurant toward, as far as I could see, the only table for two in the place.

All of the other tables were pushed together, so that diners were forced to share space.

It wouldn’t have been a problem for me had we sat at a table with others, as I firmly believe I could’ve talked poor, unsuspecting people out of a taste of their dinner. Hey, I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. But the table arrangement did explain the low light–the safest way to get people to dine with strangers is to make sure we can’t get a good look at each other. 

No, we didn’t get the frog legs. As we neared our table, I looked out the window and saw the hullabaloo outside.

People were lined up down the sidewalk to get in, and within half an hour of opening, every chair was filled in the joint. What could be so fantastic about this place, but more importantly, why hadn’t those people gone through a cocktail and the back door to get in? It’s mind-boggling that choosing to stand in line outside was preferable to sipping liquor in a back room while staring at condoms.

Opening up the menu, my first clue about why people would line up to get in the place were the prices. Being from Alabama, it’s interesting to me how so many restaurants can turn soul food into crazy expensive items by labeling it “soul cuisine.” Not that just anyone can fry up some chicken and even call it food, but this place didn’t charge an arm and a frog leg for, well, frog and chicken legs. I started panicking after looking over the menu and seeing about seven items that I had to try, but I was reassured that leftovers are the point of Montage, so ordering lots of food was cheered. Both by the waitress and my drooling mouth.

The darkness of the place forced high iso and low quality shots, but hey. No way I’m not giving it the ol’ Photoshop try. Because that’s how much I love you, man. Those brown nuggets above would be hush puppies. Filled with chunks of corn and scallions, they weren’t like most hush puppies I’ve eaten, but that didn’t make them any less delicious. The main ingredient from regular hush puppies is cornmeal, while the base for these are more floury. See that creamy yellow plate in the background? That was also part of the first course and you’ll have to excuse me for a moment as I say a little prayer.

Let me start by saying that I am not a lover of all things macaroni and cheese. I hate a mushy noodle, and the concept of boiling and then baking them means that there’s no chance in hell that noodle isn’t going to disintegrate before it makes it to the back of my mouth. But when I saw the item on the menu, a little psychic voice inside my head (way close to my tongue), said That bowl of the Old Mac (ohh, garlic, yum cream, sweet Parmesan) will be mine.”

This is because the second problem with macaroni and cheese is that often the “cheese” tastes like raw flour with lumps of shredded cheese in it, and who wants that in their mouth? Not me, said my little psychic voice. So we ordered the hush puppies and macaroni and cheese as appetizers. If you’re gonna go…. While the hush puppies were great, this macaroni and cheese became my new BFF. I will seek its comfort during the cold, lonely times. I will cherish the pleasure of its company over lunch breaks from tax-free shopping. I will even introduce it to my other girlfriends who can secretly eat it behind my back and then later spill the gossip of their date just to make me jealous. The macaroni and I bonded so tightly, my fork had to be peeled from my fingers because I’d be too stuffed to even try the buttermilk fried chicken legs I’d ordered, plus there had to be leftovers, remember? Aluminum foil animals? Fine then.

The bus girl took away the pasta and puppies and returned with a huge dragonfly and blooming rose. I was awed right proper by the quick artistry that had me feeling warm and mushy inside. That and the knowledge that my leftover macaroni was warm and not mushy inside that gawdy rose.

Next the fried chicken legs with garlic mashed potatoes and spicy vegetables with greens was brought out. James had the jambalaya, which, I have to admit, didn’t tempt me at all. I’m not a jambalaya/gumbo girl, don’t hate me. The chicken was perfect, the mashed potatoes were a little on the runny side and had too much garlic to be perfect, but they were good. The greens were fantastic and I wished it had only been greens without the carrots and corn. I was surprised that it was chicken legs on the menu, but to be honest, most places can mess up a good chicken breast when trying to fry it, so I was quite pleased with the juicy dark meat. I ate one leg and had two leftover, along with taters and greens, that eventually found their home stuffed inside a squat penguin. The jambalaya was stuffed into the stalk of a giant tri-petaled flower.

I forgot to mention that somewhere between the hush puppies and chicken, a small salad was brought out that came with my chicken. It was greens with blue cheese crumbles and balsamic and oil were drizzled on top. I knew when I chased a crumble over the edge of the saucer that I had found not only my new BFF, but my new home away from the home that really never served homemade macaroni anyway. The chicken had nothing on my mom’s, but then I’ve never tasted anyone’s who has. You’d think with all this food that dessert wouldn’t even be a thought, but then you know better than that. Especially when I spied Mud Pie.

This wasn’t like the Mississippi Mud I know, but the cookie crust was crunchewy and the chocolate sauce was gooey goodness. I was surprised that it was ice cream, but apparantly, after a Google search earlier in the evening, that’s an option that’s fairly common. It’s generally cookie crust, gooey chocolate, marshmallow layer, and fudgey frosting where I come from. I literally couldn’t stop eating it, and why should I? There was no pressure to stuff the leftovers into aluminum foil, see. It’s perfect to share, especially if you’re stuffed on hush puppies, macaroni, and chicken leg.

The food is awesome, the place is cool, and the staff were just downright hospitable. And? AND?! Our check was $42. For-ty-two-dol-lars. We had appetizers, salad, entrees, dessert, and yeah. $42. We love it and will be going again as soon as possible. I’m just glad it’s 175 miles from my house. Two hours and forty-nine minutes, up to three hours and thirty minutes in traffic. If I start now, I can be there by midnight. This must be why they’re open until 2 during the week and 4 on the weekends.

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