THE DINING REPORT – JUST TRYING TO CATCH-UP AFTER MY MASSIVE ATTACK OF LAZINESS –

BITS AND PIECES FROM RESTAURANT ROULETTE

First of all, let me clarify, I am not of a lazy nature, except when it comes to blogging. I have spent our warmer months doing PLENTY of yard work, housecleaning, exercising, even a mini building project, I just have not had the willpower to sit around plunking on my keyboard. Consequently, I have actually read many of those books I obsessively buy, so much nicer when sitting out on the deck surrounded by flora and fauna than my winter routine of reading huddled in front of a space heater. But heartbreakingly, the summer yard work season is already waning, my crazed trips to the gardening center are over, and in a month and a half, I’m sure to be stationed in front of that space heater once again. So it’s time to gather some discipline and start training myself once again to spend many of my home hours in front of this glowing screen, devoting huge increments of time documenting our latest RR dinner, instead of my summer computer activity, fantasizing about cheap Craig’s List vacation rentals I’m viewing on-line.

First of all, since I’ve been away (in late July) our good friends Tori and Dave managed to produce their offspring, Kellen Nunn Jones. Although we may not see them again for 15 years of so, I know we all applaud their effort and wish the best for Tori, Dave, young Kellen and brother Jimmy (hey, dogs are people too!)

I can’t really tell you what’s going on with too many other people in the group, as I haven’t seen or heard from them (HINT, HINT) but for those of you who remember those glory days when Marnie and Leo were wonderful members, they finally found a really swanky looking abode to their liking our in Aloha, and moved in a couple of weeks ago. So yes, now we Oregonians are stuck with them, until they decide to try to flip their somewhat rural mansion. I’ve also dined privately with a few people from our seemingly fragmented dining group, so have managed a couple of dinners at Toro Bravo, and meals at Tapalaya, Navarre, and the scary but festive food carts on Hawthorne (there’s nothing like a meal consisting of fries and a hand pie). I’ve also had lunches at The Blue Olive, Nel Centro, Meat Cheese and Bread, and Navarre. Really not much eating out over a three month time period, especially from someone who got sick of eating their own cooking over 3 years ago.

Restaurant Roulette did manage a couple of dinners in June, both with only a sprinkling of attendees, so I will include some comments on them to follow, as they featured good meals. I know times are tough out there, but things are supposed to be looking up, so hopefully we will see a few more of your food filled faces over the coming months.

So anyway, let’s begin with the review I started to write, In early June, on our dinner at Park Kitchen ….

THE DINING REPORT – PARK KITCHEN  – June 6th, 2009

A Palace of Ample Parking

Okay, you tell me. When is the last time you went to a dinner at a famous Pearl District eatery, on a Saturday evening at 6:30, and everyone in your group found metered parking either in front of or two doors down from the restaurant? True, we were a small group, but still, three cars worth of parking in the P.D. at a peak entertainment time, miraculous! So just remember, if you want a great meal and plentiful parking, head for Park Kitchen.

Although on second thought, it does make me wonder. Do you suppose people make it a point to head out for a downtown dinner after 7:00 to avoid that last 30 minutes of paid parking? I know 7:00 has always been the previous desired hour to eat out at, but I’ve been doing some of the dinners a half an hour earlier lately, then that leaves me time when I get home to finish off my special evening with some underwear sorting and dryer screen cleaning, and other electrifying activities. So just remember, if those fun old chores are piling up at home, go to dinner at 6:30, get stuck paying for 30 minutes of parking, but in all likelihood get a primo parking spot, then you can rush home earlier to work on you catalog of under-the-bed dust bunnies that look most like scary clouds.

As for Park Kitchen though (oh yeah, I did originally have a subject thingee going here) I suppose it’s always been a bit off-the-beaten path, a few blocks east of all the other Pearl District restaurants, and a few blocks north of the downtown “hubbub”.IMG_1107 That’s never stopped Park Kitchen from healthy customer traffic though, not to mention being a critic’s darling since practically the moment it opened. In fact, except for some very negative comments I recently read from a long removed (but always remembered) RR member, I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read anything negative about chef Scott Dolich or PK, except for how diminutive the space was and how close diners had to sit next to one another. Park Kitchen has done some expanding though, and while many of the tables still lack privacy, the restaurant can now accomodate more bodies.

My two other visits to Park Kitchen were several years ago (it’s been around 6 years now?) and both for lunch. Now, it was time to whip out the big bucks and do dinner, as Park Kitchen has never exactly been cheap. The first example of this, if you want bread at Park Kitchen to begin your meal, you have to buy it. I know this is an ongoing trend, and a couple months in the future I will find myself paying $1.50 to eat one dinner roll, but isn’t $4.00 a bit much to have to pay for a cotton pickin’ basket of bread. IMG_1103After all, what is it, gold leaf bread or something? Actually, I seem to remember it was from Ken’s, as much of the really good restaurant bread around town is, and it came with some delicious little Park Kitchen housemade crackers, which were delicate and nifty, but $4.00 can’t help but leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, especially for something that many, many restaurants still gave away for free, and in ample supplies as well.

The over-priced bread with “good olive oil” (is there a crappy olive oil that makes it cheaper, maybe I’ll have that next time) really is about my only complaint about our dinner at Park Kitchen. As you often read, the place is very professional, yet friendly, and the food is first rate. Even with the expanded area, the main dining room still seems a bit smallish, and privacy tends to be elusive at Park Kitchen, but the atmosphere is pleasant in a very modern way (although the bathroom seems quite lacking for an establishment of this caliber).

IMG_1099Small plates are a big thing at Park Kitchen, and while the pricing is in the upper registers of what you see around Portland (well, obviously, with $4.00 bread) there’s lots of choice and innovation on display, especially with six Small Hot Plates, and ten Small Cold Plates (but actually only six Large Plates), so you can tell what Park Kitchen likes to dish up, lots of the smaller plates (many of which are actually very generous portions).

Sadly, because it’s been three months now, and because I can imagine my brain these days looking like one of those dried apple head dolls, I can’t totally remember exactly what everyone had this evening. But I’ll post the photos, and you can make something up. IMG_1106Chances are Glenda didn’t deviate much from her usual routine, starting her evening with a couple of PBR cold ones, followed by a nice big plate of nachos, some spicy hot wings for her main course, and a deep friend Twinkie for dessert. That’s the great thing about Glenda, she always lets me take lots of photos of her, but I don’t think she reads the blog, so I can basically write whatever I feel like about her.

Seriously though, anyone who has ever met Glenda, and almost anyone who has attended one of our dinners in the last two years probably has, knows what’s listed in the previous paragraph is not her typical dining out fare (but might be what she eats in private). Hers is the meal I am having the hardest time remembering (probably because she gobbled it up so fast). I’m pretty certain she began her evening with some sort of beet salad, and that it might have had some Oregon specialty cheese involved, perhaps from the Rogue Creamery. After that it’s a total blank, and not helped by the fact that I asked the restaurant for a menu of the evening’s fare, then left it there. I think she might have had some sort of Bass though. Whatever the slop, I do remember she found it delicious.

David was in a small plate mood, and agonized over which items to choose. Obviously, from the photos, part of his selection included deep friend bowling balls. IMG_1109Seriously though (I doubt it) he started off with a couple of cold plates, then finished off with those deep friend fish orbs. His initial starter was some chilled asparagus which looked really nicely prepared, even if I personally prefer thinner asparagus than what Park Kitchen was peddling. He said it was quite good. For a second course he had the flank steak salad with blue cheese, an incredibly meaty salad which both of us has enjoyed at Park Kitchen for lunch in the past, and which Meat Cheese Bread serves on a sandwich (which I found almost too cumbersome to eat there). The whole concoction goes much better as a salad, and when Park Kitchen says Flank Steak Salad they aren’t joking, as there must be at least 1/2 lb. steak in this baby (I mean this small plate, not David).

As for the Jupiter sized fish balls Mr. D. finished his meal with, those were Salt Cod Fritters with Malt Vinegar, and he was somewhat disappointed with their lack of cod pieces (oh yes, I’m always disappointed by a lack of codpieces). IMG_1108So far, David has given a thumbs down to many of the Fritters he had tried around town, it seems like everyone wants to do fritters these days, but no one does them particularly well (although I’ve heard good things about the frittering at both Toro Bravo and Laurelhurst Market, which are distant cousins anyway, through Viande Meat progenation).

As for me, I think I had some Big Salad (see Seinfeld Episode 14,806) that had goat cheese balls (hmm) and perhaps lots of fennel. Right before this I had eaten a salad at Navarre with candied fennel, which had a sweetish taste, and it think that was more pleasing to my palate.IMG_1102 This particular salad was interesting, and more tangy because of the big wads of goat cheese, but as the fennel was just sort of there, without the sweetness, I don’t think it added much to the overall salad.

Much more interesting was my Roast Pork with Pea Stew and Scrapple (or something like that, but I think that is pretty dang close). I admit when my dish first arrived I was a bit disappointed, as the portion didn’t seem that hearty and I had been expecting to get to play a game (get it, scrapple. It takes me hours to come up with this stuff).

Not being familiar with Scrapple, at first I thought it was the weird looking stuff strewn on top of my pork, but that was actually popcorn. What possessed Park Kitchen to fling cooked popcorn on top of my dish I can’t say (kitchen mishap perhaps?) but it really didn’t add or detract from the entree, so I suppose there’s no reason to complain about its presence, especially if it was added as just a touch of whimsy (I’m all for those, especially in serious cooking). Glenda (of course) knew Scrapple, and maybe David too (where have I been) and it turns out is was a little puffy pancake thing, rather creamy like some of the better polentas.IMG_1105 On top of this was a 1/2″ thick slice of tender roast pork, and dumped over everything was an unusual gravy sort of affair with what looked like flat yellow peas (the pea stew). I’ve never really had a sauce/gravy/stew that tasted quite like this, I can’t really even explain it (not to mention remember it) but the whole combination of parts in this bowl of food, the pork, the scrapple, the pea stew, was quite good. At first I didn’t think I would be full enough after eating and would have to order dessert, with this was actually one of the more filling entrees I have had in a long time, and I was suddenly stuffed then and all evening (maybe those six kernels of popcorn put you over the top.)

IMG_1110Glenda was the only one who managed dessert on this evening, a flourless chocolate tart with an Earl Grey Sauce, quite an unusual combination. I’m not a person big on dense chocolate pastries, but the texture of the flourless cake was nice, and the Earl Grey Sauce provided quite an unusual counterpoint. Needless to say, I don’t remember Glenda leaving any bites on her plate.

Despite the fact that this review took me months to write, that’s certainly no indication it wasn’t a totally worthwhile and noteworthy meal. Park Kitchen always strikes me as a very unbane restaurant with sophisticated and innovative cooking (despite the popcorn) and that was my experience on this particular night as well. The prices add up a bit rapidly, but this is quality food with good, professional service. And please don’t forget, it’s easy to park, too.

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