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[PDX] Park Kitchen: longwinded review

Sir Loins | Jul 20, 200501:24 PM

My wife and another couple recently dined for the first time at Park Kitchen.

We had reservations, and upon entering we were greeted warmly and quickly ushered past the long bar to a jammed and bustling dining room.

My first impression -- which came as a surprise -- was that PK's design emphasizes drinking and nibbling in the bar, rather than dining in the back room. The bar was busy, but it felt airy, open, and spacious compared to the back.

We were seated, and it was obvious that we were at one of a few tables positioned in the middle of the restaurant's flow. 2 of us were regularly jostled by servers and patrons. (To their credit, the servers were polite about it.) Trays loaded with plates whizzed constantly overhead, which was amusing for a while, but not exactly relaxing. Still, I admired the acrobatic staff for moving about without spills or collisions.

Our server suggested the chef's tasting menu, which he described as "the chef chooses your courses...whatever strikes his fancy...whatever comes to mind." We were hungry and settled on 3 cold small plates, 3 hot small plates, and 3 entrees to share. Later, we also got 2 desserts.

Cold plates came first: 2 slices of pate w/mustard & sections of pickled beet & turnip; house-made crackers; and beet "tartare". The crackers were the standout, but I was bummed that the 4 of us only got a few pieces to share. The others dishes twern't nothing special. I must say that the beet tartare looked pretty, but none of us really likes beets.

Next up, 3 hot plates: a small bowl of Spanish "popcorn"; 2 pork ravioli; and 3 salt cod fritters. Our server decribed the Spanish popcorn as "deconstructed falafel", but it's really battered onion bits & garbanzo beans. It looked good in the bowl, but it was limp, dry, and without much flavor -- maybe ours were the last out of the deep fryer. The ravioli looked lovely covered in a deep-green sauce, and the pasta's texture was perfect; but overall, an intense butter flavor, in the sauce and the ravioli, overwhelmed this dish. The fritters were, however, really interesting: crisp outside, moist & chewy inside, and fun to eat.

The evening began looking up with the entrees: fish w/fava beans; duck w/a fruit sauce (I forget what fruit); and rhubarb-laquered pork -- all delicious. The fish & fava was a tender, very aromatic dish, and my favorite. The beans had a crisp bite and flavor; I couldn't help but think that if more folks cooked limas (which look like miniature favas) this way, instead of to the point of mush, more people would like them. The duck was the most delicate and moist I've ever had -- even the skin could be cut with a fork. It was luscious, and I'm not crazy about duck. The rhubarb-laquered pork was also fork tender, but its sauce tasted a lot like the duck's. These 2 dishes were tasty, but with such similar flavors and textures, I was surprised they were served together.

Dessert was rhubarb upside-down cake, and a chocolate mint brownie served w/mint ice cream. Both were moist,rich, and excellent, but I dig rhubarb and the cake was my favorite.

We enjoyed ourselves, but among the 4 of us, I probably had the highest expectations. I was disappointed that the chef's tasting menu wasn't improvised as our server had implied. In fact, every dish was taken directly off of that night's menu. We might as well have picked our own courses (and avoided beets) or asked the servers what they liked.

Also, we asked to have our dishes paired w/wines by the glass, but the kitchen didn't seem to communicate to the servers what was coming out when, and the wines lagged behind. We gave up on the idea after the first two glasses.

Would I return? Maybe, but I wouldn't eat in dining room again, which also means that I wouldn't go back with another party of 4. It's strange that the bar of a fine restaurant seems more comfortable and inviting. Still, we left with full bellies and warm "thank yous" from the courteous staff. Everyone was unfailingly friendly and polite.

Ultimately, I thought that the food was too inconsistent. For the $130 my wife and I spent, I would've liked to have been wowed -- we rarely can spend that kind of money dining out. But mostly, I regret not getting that creative chef's tasting menu I was expecting.

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