Ox in Portland is getting well-deserved acclaim for its grilled meats, seafood, and roasted vegetables. You may have heard people talking about the Asado Argentino sampler plate, which provides a nice introduction of grilled short ribs, house chorizo and morcilla sausages, skirt steak, sweetbreads, fried potatoes, and green salad, while the spicy braised octopus and beef tripe with mint aioli and poached asparagus tips is also worth a try.
But the fun doesn't stop with the savories at Ox. Desserts are special, too, so it's well worth saving some stomach space.
The Cheesecake Panna Cotta with Roasted Banana Pudding and Cinnamon Graham Donut Holes ($8) is creamy and custardy. This dessert serves up the best of both the cheesecake and pudding worlds. Somewhat richer than usual, the panna cotta contains cream cheese and sour cream. Above the custard is a layer of roasted banana pudding laced with diced fresh banana, and I love how the roasted bananas impart a sweet caramelized flavor. Six golf ball-sized donut holes dominate the top of the dessert; they're made with graham flour and dusted with cinnamon sugar. The smaller balls are Valrhona chocolate croquants: dark chocolate-covered crispy cereal grains. Bursts of chocolate, undertones of cinnamon, bananas "two ways," and cheesecake-like custard make this a more complex dessert than it seems, and yet still very comforting to eat.
The next dessert is literally (called) Magic: Vanilla Rhubarb Sorbet with Bittersweet Chocolate Magic Shell and Crushed Pistachio ($8). This brought me back to my college days, when Magic Shell first appeared and we'd get our kicks pouring the product on anything cold. Back then it made even bad ice cream cool to eat, but at Ox the house-made "magic shell" elevates the dessert. Vegan (and gluten-free), the sorbet is made with rhubarb, vanilla bean, sugar, and a squeeze of orange, resulting in a creamy, sweetened rhubarb flavor with just a hint of tartness. Crushed toasted pistachio pieces add nutty texture, and a little sprinkling of Jacobsen Salt helps pull out all the flavors. You might need a running start with your spoon to crack the shell, but the effort is rewarding as the chocolate and rhubarb make an unexpectedly good combination.
My favorite (pictured at the very top) is the Warm Hazelnut Brown Butter Torte with Honey Chamomile Ice Cream and Honeycomb Candy ($8), which happens to be gluten-free. The torte is nuanced and nutty, made with ground roasted hazelnuts and almond powder. A study in contrasts, the ice cream atop the "nut brownie" is floral and sweet, made with local honey and chamomile that's infused into a standard anglaise custard base. A good-sized chunk of honeycomb candy adorns the ice cream while smaller pieces garnish the plate; the slightly peppery and fruity flavor you may detect comes from a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. With a tantalizing variety of textures and terrific taste, this torte, like Ox's other desserts, is both full of quality and fun to eat.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.