Wife and I went to Echo for dinner, a relatively new place on MLK. Like many of the newer Portland restaurants, there's an emphasis on the bar and a casual-chic atmosphere. The menu follows form as well, with items that are a mix of pubby foods and slightly chiquified comfort foods with also some dishes that are clearly trying to compete with places like Lauro, Park Kitchen, or Fife. Here's what we ate:
* Baked crab and cheese dip with warm Italian bread ($6).
* Puree of carrot and ginger soup ($5)
* Pecan crusted true cod with lemon aioli and tart cherry wild rice with sauteed vegetables ($15)
* Grilled venison chops, juniper rubbed, bourbon thyme reduction served with chef's potatoes du jour and sauteed vegetables ($16)
* Butternut squash cheesecake with a polenta pecan crust and caramel sauce ($6)
* Warm zucchini bread served on creme anglaise with house-made cinnamon ice cream ($5.5)
The crab dip was okay. It had a bit of an picante afterburn that my wife didn't like. For me, it was just a little too Applebees.
The carrot soup was okay as well. The carrot-ginger balance was off, imo, though. The soup was totally overpowered by the ginger -- enough so, that I wasn't sure if the carrot flavor was any good. It wasn't a bad soup, but poorly balanced.
The entrees were better. The pecan crusted cod was a little overcooked so that the texture of the flesh was a bit mushy. (It was decent-sized portion.) The wild rice was boring and not very flavorful with little to no cherries. The vegetables were green beans.
The venison was a little chewy here and there, but not bad. It was nicely cooked, but it had a little bit of a bitter flavor on the crust. The sauce was decent, but nothing special. The bourbon reduction was a little too Applebees, as well. I think reductions like this need either other reductions to make them not so one-noted or need to be enhanced with a stock reduction for some complexity. Otherwise, it just tastes like some sweet whiskey glaze you get at Tony Romas. It came with undercooked and room temperature green beans and boiled potatoes. Weak sides.
The desserts were better than both the entrees and appetizers. The cheesecake was very light and creamy which my wife really enjoyed. It had a very pleasant flavor. The crust was interesting and good, but there could have been more of it. It was topped with creme fraiche and came with a sauce which they said was caramel, but was more like a thinned honey (and was tasty).
The zucchini bread was moist and thick served on top of creme anglaise and the caramel/honey. It was quite good (from someone who ate a lot of zucchini bread growing up with gardens where summer squash was always in abundance). The cinnamon ice cream was very good, not too sweet and not so cinnamony that you felt like hacking up a furball.
My wife especially liked the interior of the restaurant. The high brick walls adorned with candle-lined shelves made it feel cozy, yet open. Neither the booths next to the large windows or the tables with metal-backed chairs were especially comfortable, but you still felt like you were in a somewhat nice place.
The staff is a little overworked. They need to add a person, especially once they start hopping after 7. But they're competent and it's not too huge a room. They have a happy hour menu with all items $5 or under. My impression is that this may be a good place for happy hour or drinks and desserts. The prices are low enough that the dinners are probably worth it, but I'd probably rather spend a little more and go to Lauro, Fife, Park Kitchen, clarklewis, Tabla, etc.