I really didn't do much "research" for my trip to Portland. I usually have my face in guides, and read my eyes red looking over various websites. This time, I decided to minimize my anal retentive research. But that doesn't mean that I just decided to forgo any planning whatsoever. I did purchase a book; Best Places Portland, just so I could have some points of reference. And I also read through two Food Blogs; ExtraMsg.com and Portland Food and Drink, along with the requisite checks on Chowhound and eGullet. There was one entry on Portland Food and Drink that jumped out at me; the review of Park Kitchen. I read through the menu sampling, with dishes such as:
Pork belly mole with pumpkin seeds and oranges
Batter fried green beans with tarragon and bacon
Prosciutto of duck breast with fromage blanc and figs
Duck with root beer spices and cornbread pudding
And I was very intrigued. But still, I put off calling in reservations until the very last minute, which was the Thursday I arrived in Portland. So Thursday night, I decided to call and make reservations for Friday. And when I called I mentioned that I'd like to make reservations for Friday, there was a pause......a breath, and a "what time are you looking at?" When I said I could be there right at first service at 5pm, I could hear Her smiling when the very nice Gal said: "Just come on down, if it's for one, and around opening, we'll find room for you!"
When I entered Park Kitchen, the first thing I noticed was how very tiny this little restaurant was. There were just a few tables squeezed together, along with a bar area in the restaurant. Later I discovered a few more tables to the rear of restaurant near the kitchen.
This makes for a quite "intimate" seating situation, one that my Asian sensibilities sometimes feels uncomfortable with. But that all ended with my Server, Kevin. He made me feel so very welcome, and had such an intimate knowledge of the dishes on the menu, that just having Him to explain and guide me heightened the entire dining experience. If you ever read this; "thanks Kevin, I wish I had someone like you at every restaurant I eat at!" I had decided to order several small plates, and Kevin explained that 4 small plates are equal to an app and an entree. As I perused dishes such as Crisp Duck Blini, Peas, and Lavender; Kevin poured me a pint of Roots Organic IPA. This IPA, was very "hoppy", on the bitter side, and woke me up!!!
I started with the Chickpea Fries with Pumpkin Ketchup($8.50):
Served in the manner of pomme frites, these were wonderful. What was explained to me was that chickpeas are mashed, spread on a tray and baked. They are then formed, breaded and deep fried. Yum! At the beginning of my meal, I asked Kevin what the food at Park Kitchen was all about. I was told that the combinations are innovative, but always pull in the flavor of the "familiar". Chickpea Fries? Yeah, right! But as I ate them, there it was, the familiar, falafel like flavor, the caraway seeds adding character; the pumpkin ketchup acting as a fine tahini. So good, I really didn't need the ketchup....Good stuff!!!
At this point, I needed another brew. I asked Kevin what he recommended to go with the meal, and he got me a Siletz Spruce Ale:
Spruce Ale!!! Never had it. But it did work, the ale did have the scent of spruce(just like Christmas...), but was quite light and refreshing. In fact, the Spruce Ale did a fine job of palate cleansing between bites of food. I now understand that Spruce cuttings and other flavorings are added instead of Hops to offset the sweetness of the malt.
Being the big time lamb lover, I ordered the Lamb Tartar, spiced chickpeas, and mint($10.50):
My favorite of the night. Minced lamb and mint, served with a chickpea puree, topped with a quail egg. The lamb was moist, and though I could have done with the lamb being a bit wilder in flavor, this was good. The flavor of the mint reeled you back into the realm of the familiar, and cut the richness. The pseudo-hummus did the same.
Duck Ham, Preserved Strawberries, and Goat Cheese Fondue($9.50):
The preserved strawberries were fabulous with a nice anise flavor to balance out the sweetness, the mild goat cheese added a creamy texture. The weakness of the dish was the very tame duck ham, which I thought was quite flavorless. Still those strawberries........
I asked Kevin for a recommendation for my last small plate. He recommended the Sherry Soused Spinach, 8 Minute Eggs, and Hazelnuts($9.50):
This earthy dish, had so many components(the Spruce Ale didn't help), the slight bitter tastes aided by nutty flavors. I do think that some "salty" component would have made the rich dish shine more, but it's very hard to complain about perfectly boiled eggs.
I even ordered dessert! Strawberry Panna Cotta with Verbena and Pistachio Amaretti($7.00):
Other then the over chewy Amaretti(macaroons), I enjoyed this dessert. I'm not a fan of the overly sweet and rich, so this filled the bill.
The damage? $57. Not bad for a splurge dinner. I'd recommend Park Kitchen for the adventurous eater, who is willing to take chances, just as Park Kitchen does, with the realization that not everything will be a "hit". But when it's good, it's very good! I'd also advise to go early for Dinner, and hopefully you'll find someone as knowledgeable and professional as Kevin to help guide you. Sometimes it's good to trust your Chef!
422 Nw 8th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
Lunch: Mon-Fri 1130am-230pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat 500pm-"Close"
Still not quite adjusted to the efficiency of mass transit(when trimet says 4 minutes, it won't go past 8 minutes), and how small the blocks are; I arrived at my destination very early. Like 1 hour early! Fine with me. I was able to walk around the "North Park Blocks", and even got some shopping done for Da' Boyz here:
A combination Pet Boutique, Doggie Daycare, and Groomer; Urban Fauna had a nice selection of toys and treats for Sammy and Frankie. I also had the chance to relax and take a walk around the park blocks and admire the artwork:
Oh, and by the way, Powell's Technical Books is located here as well.
While I was reading, waiting for Park Kitchen to open, the most interesting thing happened:
A Fire Engine drove on up, and the Ladder Truck proceeded to extend it's ladder to one of the Lofts.
And two Firefighters scurried up the ladder.
I don't know if someone was locked in, or locked out....but it sure beats a Locksmith. Can you imagine this happening in San Diego, or Los Angeles?
After dinner I took a walk around the Pearl District. Once a Warehouse and Industrial area, it has now become Portland's SoHo. Antique Shops, Furniture Stores, and Trendy Restaurants abound. Upscale Lofts and Townhouses now share the block with auto-repair and bearing shops. Here's some really interesting street art from Jamison Square Park:
It's called Tikitotmoniki, looks sort of like a cross between Tiki and Totems.
Funny thing happened to me in The Pearl. By this time, I had assimilated to Pedestrian and other rules in Portland. I had also gotten a bit too complacent.....after all pedestrians were looked after and cared for in Portland. So while being a total bozo and entering the street to take that photo, a sportscar drove up, horn blaring, the two male passengers yelling at me and giving me the "finger", and then driving off........sorry to say, the car had California plates. Sigh.........