Monday, January 19, 2009


"When did every restaurant start offering such small portions? When did it become hip to not eat anything? Or has it always been this way and I just didn't notice." That was the commentary from my companion as we stared at our plates in front of us at Oddfellows Cafe & Bar on Capitol Hill. We had just finished a nice 8 mile run and were hungry. We had planned on eating at Oddfellows after our mid-day run and looked forward to it greatly as the miles ticked away. I was particularly excited to see the inside of the restaurant, and that didn't disappoint. The beautiful high ceilings made for a open, rich space and the decor was something I could imagine having if I were able to design my home from the ground up: rusticated tables and church pews, that actually came from the Catholic church (and school) that I attended for my formative education. I also have a fondness for church pews as functional furniture, since I grew up in a house where we had one in our front hallway.

The place was buzzing with a happy lunch going very Capitol Hill crowd. There was a line for ordering, but a waiter came round and directed us to a table and took our order. I was very much in the mood for a hearty delicious salad and I ordered the chicken and arugula salad sans blue cheese and my friend ordered the mozzarella caprese sandwich. We sipped happily on our coffees and were both pleased that they offered Stumptown Coffee there. I nestled back on one of the church pews by the window and starred at the baked goods. They all looked amazing and indulgent. We eyed plates coming to nearby tables and prepared ourselves for deliciousness. Everything looked delicious, at least the sandwiches did. I didn't see any salads. I did notice right away that what I had read on other reviews was indeed true: there was nothing more than a pickle spear to accompany the sandwich. Hmmmm. I hoped there would be plenty of salad in my salad.

Our very dapper waiter approached with our plates and put them down in front of us. My friend then made the comment about portion size. I have seen small plates, but frankly my salad was microscopic, albeit beautifully composed. 10 points for presentation. There were some croutons on the bottom, topped with about 1 oz of chicken (yes I am talking 2 forkfuls), a few shreds of bacon and a few greens on top. I would have been even a bit better off had they put that much meat on say 2-3 cups of greens, but there was only a sprig or two. Dressing on the side, per my request. I removed the croutons, as I don't eat much wheat and had not noticed them in the description of the salad (-10 pts for me, but I was falling down hungry). My salad went from small to smaller. I didn't like croutons much ever, let alone after I learned I was intolerant. My friends sandwich was not huge, but definitely, he reported, tasty. But even tasty and properly sandwiched sized, it wasn't enough for a hungry runner. I dove into my salad, hoping at least my few bites were satisfying to the palette. And they were: both few and tasty that is.

We both looked at the menu again quizzically on the way out, looking for some sort of indication that I should have expected this or should have ordered differently. It is possible, but based on what I saw this was about the going portion rate there. I don't need standard American size portions, but I also shouldn't have to eat lunch after I spend $9 on a salad for lunch. I know my appetite is healthier than some due to all the running, but I can't imagine anyone being satisfied by that salad. And maybe, as my friend pointed out, that is not the point. Maybe the small food thing is just hip and "in". I totally am down with small plates, when I know that is what I am signing up for. I just don't like the let down and I think that like many other reviewers about this restaurant, we were just surprised when the food came to the table. The flavor was there, but the portion was not.

It comes down to this, if I could eat/wanted to eat a sandwich I would have been all over this place, but I would make sure I ordered multiple items. I would probably not waste my money on a $9 salad, unless one of the beautiful composed salads really caught my fancy, and even then I wouldn't rely on it for filling me up. There were many delicious looking sandwiches and all in all, despite poor portion size, I did like Oddfellows.

I keep getting quasi-anonymous comments on my blogs telling me that I shouldn't eat "standard" items or go to a restaurant in the first week, and then review it, but frankly, as I have mentioned, I represent the people who eat like I do. The people who may only have one opportunity to go to a restaurant once, the people who may never order anything but "4 standard sushi rolls", I believe they deserve to know what they are getting into. And I do think my judgments are fair because my context is always revealed. I never claim that I have tried everything on menu 6 times and frequented a restaurant on every day of the week, etc. I don't live like that, so how and why would I review like that? Oddfellows is a great example. It is likely that I won't go running back (literally) there for lunch anytime soon, because of my own personal limitations (i.e. no sandwiches). But I think you should go, not run and perhaps a few hours after a hearty brunch and try their food, especially the pull pork sandwich which caught my eye. I think the presentation, atmosphere and flavor profiles warrant that. I am abundantly curious about how dinner might be and am going to definitely try at some point and report back. I would like to hope that the small portion sizes are not a matter of being "too cool for school" or pretense, which is entirely possible. I would say it is worth a shot and while you are there make sure to have a cookie and a big glass of milk. I have reason enough to go back at some point since as I stood at the counter paying for lunch, I noticed that there was Shepherd's Pie. I said, "ohhh Shepherd's Pie" to my friend at which point the waiter interject, "omg, it is so good." Guess this time, I really did miss out on the goods, so try the Shepher'd Pie, I know I will. So go, jump in with both feet, have a go and enjoy, just know what you are getting into (portion size) when you are ordering and you will have a successful dining experience at Oddfellows.

Oddfellows Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

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