Part 1 of 3: Big Attitudes, Small Plates (50 Plates & Park Kitchen)

Early July was an extravaganza of shared plates (Park Kitchen, Tanuki, 50 Plates, Beaker & Flask), and for a household in which the small-plates ban has recently been lifted? That’s quite a list. Between SF visitors and a birthday there was a lot to celebrate, and some of the meals were even celebration-worthy.

Aside to Portlanders: Remember early July? Temps in the mid-70s, cool breezes that we mindlessly accepted without a whit of gratitude? Sleeping with a sheet…or jammies at the very least? (Our poor, unfortunate neighbors. Open windows, no clothes or blankets, we’ll just leave that mental picture unfinished.) Cooking, running the dishwasher, hopping a bus, sitting out on the sidewalk sipping lattes, going to a restaurant without first calling to see if the a/c is working…ah the good old days.

Happy hour at 50 Plates was pleasant but forgettable. Not much enticing in the way of drink specials and the plates were hit and miss. The mushrooms on toast and shrimp ‘n grits, both dishes I’d loved before, were again fantastic: rich and bursting with mouth-filling flavors. The silver dollar sammies were a mixed bag (and a tiny clutch-sized bag at that, they take the silver dollar part very literally): forgettable pulled pork, but a great little kobe burger. The artichoke roll was bland and lifeless with no discernable artichoke, the crab jalapeno poppers had no crab flavor…nor any pop…and the Not a Cobb was not only not a Cobb, it wasn’t much of anything else, either. Simultaneously watery and gooey, it was a bland disappointment after the Not a Cobb at Quinn’s in Seattle. Our elevated sidewalk seat was great for people-watching, but the 70s rock classics blaring from the speakers and the slightly snarky-but-not-in-a-clever-way service didn’t really go with the white wine thing that was happening at our table. I’ll definitely go back for real food, but it’s not knocking Andina off the top of my Pearl happy hour list any time soon.

PK-logoDinner at Park Kitchen was also a mixed bag. (Adore their logo. No mixed feelings about that at all.) Having gone to Toro Bravo with out-of-towners twice in June, we were determined to branch out. So we shortlisted: Park Kitchen, Laurelhurst Market, Le Pigeon, Toast and Nostrana. All are pretty and / or unique, and they seemed a good variety of off-beat, new and hot, tres Pdx French, neighborhoody and solidly good. From websites and menus our guests both put PK at the top of the list. Having had great meals there in the past and having neglected them for the past year, we all felt good about the decision.

We started at the bar with two white wines, a refreshing and unique Violette (Meyer’s rum, crème de violette, Cointreau, orange bitters, lime twist), and an excellent Trace Bourbon Manhattan, and soon moved to our table. Is there any better location on a balmy evening than a Park Kitchen sidewalk table? Our four-top was just outside the rollup door where we could experience the buzz of the room and the ever darkening shadows of the trees in the park, as we perused the menu. Due to one slightly particular eater, we ordered a la carte, though the $40/pp chef’s choice looked like a great deal when all’s said and done.

Let’s do this laundry list style:

    Crisply brown salt-cod fritters seemed overly large and…the greater sin…overly potatoey after Toro Bravo’s, and the vinegar was fine but pooled on plates that we had to keep for several more courses.

    The fried green beans were delicious, though somehow we’d all envisioned an Asian dried-fried thing rather than tempura bean fries in a glass. Once we adjusted our mental picture they were consumed with relish (well actually with aioli, but you know what I mean).

    Grilled prawns: Forgettable and a waste of a course.

    Razor clam salad with sea beans and favas: Unique, flavorful and seaworthy, exactly the kind of eye-opening dish one expects here.

    Smoked sturgeon, currants and nasturtiums: Flat-out yummy. Smoky, salty, sweet, but all with a light, balanced touch.

    Roast pork entree: Nicely done. It didn’t blow my socks off but any time I can get a pink and juicy loin, hats off!

    Foie gras with pickled strawberries, pistachios and baby beets: Completely misleading (it was better described on the bill than menu), baffling and disappointing. With paper-thin shavings of foie (apparently…they were hard to locate), on cooked strawberries in a thick tasteless sauce that turned out to be the pistachios, it was softness on mush, topped by shavings of melty. With nice beets. A misstep can happen anywhere, but this one got compounded by the server’s dingbat response to our honest but polite assessment. In an attempt to stem her misplaced gushing I pronounced the dish “a mess”. SO not Portland-nice of me…oops. She stalked away and handed us off to another (more seasoned) server, but there was a lot of meal to go and we all felt the effects of my tactlessness. May I suggest that if you’re going to ask how something is, one should listen to the (unanimous, btw) answer? And not take offense? I’m not at your home and bound by the “everything’s delicious” rule. (Oh wait, I don’t even do that at people’s homes unless I mean it.)

    Nothing on the dessert menu called to me, though I thought the olive oil cake with summer berries was very nice. The boys also had chocolates from Xocolatl de David, which they dubbed “interesting”.

K. pronounced the pork and green beans a hit. A. really liked the lavash-style crackers in the bread plate. “Nothing else? Not even the sturgeon?” “Well, the bread was good, too.” Ohhhh snap! Ouch. J and I appreciated the creativity and effort but agreed it was an uneven experience for the pricetag. At meal’s end we noticed by chance that they’d comped the pistachio-sauce course. While wonderful and appreciated, a verbal acknowledgment would have gone a long way to putting things into perspective. As it was left, this debacle of a dish and the server’s handling of us left the biggest impression.

Next, a little additional color commentary on Tanuki, reviewed on Eat. Drink. Think., and a small shot of Beaker & Flask also recently reviewed by GoodStuffNW.

01
August 3rd, 2009 1:31 pm

So clear, I can see it all (don’t worry, I’m not looking in your windows). Great description of the weather this last week, too. Amazing to think that temps in the 90s are “cool” though, isn’t it?

Nice to know about 50 Plates…hope they get the word. So many people try happy hour to see if they like the menu enough to return for dinner. Food should be sterling!

And thanks for the shout out!

02
August 5th, 2009 12:44 pm

If they cut their ingredients’ list at Park Kitchen by half, the effect might not be so numbing. Style is style, yes, and I’m no stranger to chaos. But as time lingers, I’m in stronger support of the modifier “mess” to describe the foie. A riot of everything and nothing all at once.

03
August 25th, 2009 12:49 pm

JMH: “A riot of everyting and nothing all at once”….that’s why you wear the Beautiful Mundane crown. Beautifully put and as descriptive as my 2,000 words.

All those words, and I still forgot to mention the really warm Hamacher “H” Pinot they served us. And the baffled reaction to the request for an ice bucket. That never came.

04
April 24th, 2010 3:36 pm

So clear, I can see it all (don’t worry, I’m not looking in your windows). Great description of the weather this last week, too. Amazing to think that temps in the 90s are “cool” though, isn’t it?

Nice to know about 50 Plates…hope they get the word. So many people try happy hour to see if they like the menu enough to return for dinner. Food should be sterling!

And thanks for the shout out!

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