Thought I'd give the fish at Southpark a try and 25 for $25 gave me a reason. I'm not a big fan of fish. I usually am extremely picky about the seafood I'll eat. But Southpark came recommended for fish. It seems to be recommended second only to Jake's. Here's the 25 for $25 menu (I'm going by memory for the items not on the webpage because they gave us a copy of the menu, but it was the wrong menu, which was annoying):
Singing Pig Farm Organic Greens and Candied Walnuts with Spanish Goat Cheese or Gorgonzola
Soup of the Day
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Hazelnuts, Sage and Marsala
Grilled Salmon with Chorizo and Clam Piperade
Painted Hills Beef Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine with Creamy Rosemary Polenta
Southpark's Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée: A Traditional Custard with Burnt Sugar Crust
Warm Banana Bread Pudding: Rich Banana Bread Baked in a Rum Vanilla Custard and Served with a Vanilla Caramel Sauce
Choice of Gelato: Vanilla Bean, Toasted Almond, Pear Sorbetto
They went a little weak on the starters and desserts, imo, but maybe they were providing for the least common denominator, putting boring things that people wouldn't be scared to try.
I had the 25 for $25. My wife chose off the regular menu. I had the soup, the salmon, and the bread pudding. My wife had crab cakes, the black bass (if I remember right) special, and the chocolate fritters.
They started us out with a nice bread basket, a decent wheat sourdough with a nice thick crust and a white bean spread to go on the bread. They also place an interesting pitcher of water on the table (at least for us as non-drinkers) but still came by so often and filled our glass with it that I never had to fill it myself.
The soup was a vegetable-noodle soup with serrano ham julienne. It had bell peppers and tomatoes, I believe. It was an okay soup helped a lot by the serrano ham. The broth was a little oily or something, I think, but had a nice mild spicy heat.
The grilled salmon was pretty good, though its meat was maybe a little soft. But the flavor was good. The clams were spaced around the outside of the plate, littlenecks, I think, and still attached to their shells, which was a bit annoying. It's nice when they take scrape the clams from their shells and then put them back in. With only a butter knife and fork it can be a bit awkward removing them. They seemed to be cooked correctly. The chorizo was a very mild chorizo cut into 1/4" thick slices and laid all over the dish. The salmon came with a sautee of bell pepper julienne and crushed tomatoes. Overall it was a decent dish. But just a little lackluster and disappointing. I think a good sauce using the clam jus, maybe some ground rather than link chorizo, and the tomatoes would have brought everything together better. It was just too much like the chorizo and clams were a side dish for the simply prepared salmon. I want dishes that are more cohesive.
The bread pudding was quite tasty. The sauce for a bread pudding is very important and this one is good. But the use of the banana bread for the pudding also adds interest and the texture and flavors were all there. It's a solid dessert up there with The Heathman's and maybe even Mother's bread puddings.
My wife's crabs cakes were pretty good. They were Moroccan spiced with a cilanto, minto, and lime sauce. The sauce and the seasoning were very good. However, I think some would be disappointed. They actually reminded me of falafel with crab or something. They weren't anything like the great crab cakes you get in places like Washington, DC, where it's all big lumps of crab minimally bound by other bits. These are not those. You'd have to really look to see the crab and if you're crab averse like I tend to be, you'll have no problem with these. It's a subtle crab flavor. And with this appetizer tying with the highest priced appetizers at Southpark, I think that justifies a little complaining. It's one of thoese cases where it's a very good appetizer and yet still disappointing depending on who you are. $10
The black bass was excellent. It was served on sauteed or braised greens with a large "grain" couscous, pleasantly seasoned with some sort of Middle-Eastern/African flavorings, and sauteed winter squash. The bass was grilled and reminded me of ono that I've had in Hawaii with it's ultra meaty texture that makes it more like a very tender chicken breast than anything you might normally call fish. Both my wife and I liked it a lot. $19.50
Her dessert sounded better than it was, I think. It's described as deep fried chocolate marbled fritters served with toasted almond gelato and caramel sauce. What it is is chocolate chip doughnut holes with ice cream. I think they're tossed in cocoa powder or something before being fried, too. The gelato was pretty good. But I hoped for something a little more special. Like a cross between the cherry fritters and chocolate dumplings Lucere used to serve. $7.
Overall I think the menu has some interesting items with their slight Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern/North African accents. Their prices are fair with almost nothing over $20 and most appetizers under $10. The service is adequate and the room is pleasant with high ceilings, subtle Mediterranean earthtones, and large windows. It's another one of Portland's quality restaurants without too much that's exceptional, but with prices most diners can afford.