A roasted Statler chicken breast ($16) was correctly done, served with excellent mashed potatoes, and cut-up Brussels sprouts that pushed the salt and pepper from everything else on the plate over the line. Steak frites ($17), on the other hand, lacked salt, even on the excellent French fries. Go figure. The steak was ordered medium rare and came rare — not a problem. It did make it harder to guess the cut, but it had a good mix of tenderness and flavor, so I am guessing hanger steak or one of the newer shoulder cuts. When the potatoes are crisp and still taste like potatoes, this combination can't miss, even with an overdressed salad of cress that lacked bite. A side of roasted asparagus ($4) was outstanding for late summer: fat spears, flecked with char, dressed with cheese.
Porter Cafe has no desserts . . . "Yet," according to our server. A friendly manager said they still hadn't figured them out. Given the lack of, say, an ice-cream store nearby, this would be some good figuring, although the small room was packed on both our visits. The crowd is younger than at West, with no kids, but this is cheap enough to be a regular night out.
Although beer is the focus — with 14 taps and a good variety of bottles, cans, large bottles, and fruit beers (another small place for Unibroue Ephemere Belgian apple ale, another giant step for beer-geek kind) — there is an unusual list of wines by the glass and bottle. Jelu malbec ($8/glass; $32/bottle) was new to me, but memorable. Any malbec with a berries and spice on the palate, and not too much alcohol, is important news in the Nadeau home. A glass of Chateau d'Eau pinot noir ($9; $36) had good fruit but was very soft on the palate.
The room is painted red, like the Regal Beagle or Cuchi-Cuchi, with a mirror like a real French bistro. The kitchen is semi-open. Most of the noise comes from the crowd, however, and the small, long room contains it. There is barely audible background music, of which I picked up some nice slow blues mid-evening, and some pop covers on a later-evening visit. It's a bar, so there are televisions tuned to sports, although there are seats where your date cannot see the TVs and will have to try to listen to you. It's a neighborhood hangout, and the acoustics reinforce that because you couldn't have much of a conversation with strangers there. Also, the benches and dark wood chairs are hard. This might be a factor in the dessert decision. If people can't sit long enough to linger, the desserts have to be light and fast.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.