Dining Out: Course after course, Oliver’s offers excellence

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Why: This is an easy answer. The excellence of every aspect of dining at Oliver’s earned it the number one spot for Best Fine Dining in Portland’s City Search for 2010 and will, no doubt, make it the restaurant to beat for 2011.

Chefs Morris Fenton and Gwyn Manney recently added Dinner Tasting Menus, which are sure to catch the attention of those who are seeking adventure in dining.

These tastings offer four to six courses, depending on which of four menus is selected. Each option comes with an amuse-bouche, Oliver’s exclusive dinner rolls, an intermezzo, tea or coffee and mignardise, which are tiny bite-sized desserts. Wine may also be added for an additional charge.

Diners make choices, such as whether they prefer fish or meat for a given course, and inform the wait staff of any food allergies. Chefs Fenton and Manney then customize a surprise meal, to order.

Atmosphere: Warm and inviting colors and textures welcome diners as they enter. The décor creates a romantic and soothing environment, with the dining tables dressed in ivory linen and topped with spotless place settings.

Tables seat up to four, and special accommodations may be arranged for larger parties. Upstairs, a quaint atrium is set up for patio-style dining. The bar has four stools and a table set for two. Maximum occupancy is 49 so reservations are advised.

What I tried: My dining companion and I chose Tasting Menu 2, a five-course meal that includes a cold appetizer, a hot appetizer, either fish or meat, a cheese plate and dessert, in addition to the five standard elements which are part of each tasting menu. I decided on the fish and my dining companion opted for meat.

I knew we were in for a treat when the first course arrived. We each received a plate beautifully adorned with one roasted slice of pear and one of apple, walnuts, greens and a piping hot bleu cheese soufflé. The presentation allowed for two options: combine everything as a salad or keep the items separate and savor the individuality of each one. We tried both approaches and thoroughly enjoyed the course.

Next up was the fish and meat. I received Swordfish with a Lemon Gin Sauce served alongside zucchini and lightly charred Brussels sprouts, and a large scallop sitting atop a bed of Indian lentils accompanied by small roasted potatoes. It was all delicious and perfectly prepared. The sauce, with its candy-sweet and lightly tangy presence, paired exceptionally well with the swordfish, making it my favorite part of the course.

My dining companion received Steak Tartare Brioche with minced red onion, sweet pickles and toast. He had never tried tartare and was very pleased with the dish. He liked both the flavor and texture and found it very appetizing.

The courses that followed were all delicious. Our dinner experience was made up of a string of highlights, which lacked nothing and served to broaden our future culinary considerations. Every tasting menu is unique so the courses will always feature different items from night to night.

Highlights beyond what I tried: Menu items, whether lunch, dinner or brunch, reflect the freshest and best available and may be viewed online at Oliver’s website.

Other observations: Tasting menu dinners are served over the span of approximately three hours. It didn’t seem that long. Portions are smaller, which allows for the introduction of more flavors to the meal. Instead of the limited options that come with ordering item-by-item from a menu, the Dinner Tasting Menus offer limitless possibilities, well-managed in the hands of Fenton and Manney.

Cost: Tasting menus range from $50 to $75 per person. Wine is $20, $30 or $35, depending on selection.

Hours: Lunch is noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Dinner is 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The bar is open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Telephone: 360-210-4037.

Where: 401 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas. www.oliversatthecamashotel.com

Health score: Oliver’s received a perfect score of zero on Aug. 3. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.