THE DINING REPORT – KIN

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I’m not a fan of Food Fusion. Just the idea of Italian with Japanese or Mexican with Lebanese practically sends chills of discontent up my spine. Different Europeans countries, that’s fine, or Spanish, Mexican, South American, those fit together nicely. But don’t go messing around with Asian-European, that just scares me away, they don’t belong together, you don’t have pasta sauce and soy sauce on the same menu.

This seems mostly a mental impediment on my part. I’ve eaten at Equinox, three or four times, and found the food fine, despite the fact that their menu is all over the map. IMG_2066The same with Wild Abandon, their menu is totally crazy, but the food is usually good. After the early days, however, except for a nice drink I’ve never been a fan of Saucebox, and have never been the least tempted to take the group to Departures, despite the beautiful space. Weird though it sounds, Asian/Asian fusion seems to be my least favorite. I want pure Japanese, or pure Thai, or pure Indian, none of this mix and match stuff.

That being said, I’m always looking for the quality restaurants out there, and after a quiet start last summer, suddenly all I was reading about toward the end of the year was what an interesting place Kin was, that their Fusion menu was high quality, beautifully prepared, and full of interesting flavors. Having experienced a very intriguing late year dinner at the now dead FIN (as of February 14th) which could be described as Seafood/Asian, I was ready to give high quality Asian/NW fusion another try, especially after three people in the group asked to go there in a one month period.
Naturally, if multiple people insist we must have a restaurant on the roster, and I put it there during the requested time frame, history says that very few of these people will actually make it to the dinner.IMG_2072 Sadly, as per usual, this was the case with Kin, of the three people who were enthusiastically coming to this dinner, only one actually made it (thank you David.) The other two canceled during the 24 hours before the dinner, as well as two others, so this was a tiny group, the smallest since Gruner last spring (and aren’t most of you sorry you missed that one.) It was pretty embarrassing, Chris at Kin, who always seemed to be answering the phone, came to know me so well from me continually calling the restaurant to diminish my reservation that he actually came over at the beginning of our dinner to introduce himself. Yes, that’s me, the hostess with no guests, the dining group with no eaters!

Okay, there were three of us, and we certainly all know our way around a plate of food. I would have liked to have seen more faces around our table on this evening, however, as the food, unusual menu, soothing atmosphere and excellent service certainly deserved it. That and the fact that this has to be one the absolutely easiest places in The Pearl to park, right along the freeway, I parked almost outside the door.

Kin is located in that little space on NW 14th that housed the adorable little Holdens’ for a few years, which used to be all black with a wall of candles. The walls are now a soothing shade of bluish green, and nice booths and random colorful decor have been added, opening up the space considerably. IMG_2065I’m pretty sure a wall or two has been removed as well, as you used to walk in and have a relatively narrow space with the bar along the east side in front of the candle wall. Now, the bar is on the north side of the space, and the eating area seems to go back quite a bit farther. Whatever they did, I liked the surroundings, classy but not too formal.

Not to zip on towards the end of the meal, but when I later journeyed to the restroom, it sent off a tide of reminiscing (yes, I do remember visiting restrooms before.) Actually, my memories were connected to having been in this restroom numerous times before, but not in conjunction with this restaurant space. David had visited the “facilities” earlier and had made a remark similar to “well, at least they were clean,” implying that the restroom was not exactly first class.IMG_2062 When I myself later went to “check the safe” and saw they were down the hall outside of Kin, it came back to me that these were those kooky bathrooms that Holden’s used to share with the gigantic restaurant space around the corner on Hoyt. You know, that giant cursed warehouse that originally housed Bima, that fun Southern place with the Baby Grand piano. Bima was the original eatery when that space was converted from a P. District warehouse, and had to have been the first really cool restaurant in the Pearl. Bima had those odd bathrooms that were like a trendy, mosaiced locker room shower, and I think originally some of them did have shower heads. Now, their glory had faded, as the big restaurant on Hoyt is once again in transition (I think I read it was becoming a “sports bar,” how ghastly.) Anyway, over the years I spent quite a few minutes in those restrooms, first at the greatly missed Bima, then at the always sophisticated Olea (we had a memorable dinner there, check out the long ago post on this blog for Olea, “Their Balls Are Bigger Than Their Brains.”)

Oh, sorry, I suppose I should get back to the Kin review rather than going on and on about the toilets down the hall. I did like Bima though, and Olea was always good for an interesting meal, expensive though it might have been.

Here’s a few on this particular Friday’s menu that we didn’t get around to ordering. Supposedly the menu changes almost daily, but as you can see by this list, we are all over the globe

Hamachi Ceviche with chillies, ginger, herbs, cucumbers, mango and wasabi tobiko. (Latin America/Japan?)

Roasted Quail with hoisin, Chinese sausage, toasted garlic, bok choy, spicy peanuts, black bean and goat cheese gnocchi. (It all sounds pretty Chinese until you get to black beans and goat cheese gnocchi. None of us had this, so I don’t know if it’s a good combo or not, but a hoisin, bok choy and goat cheese gnocchi combo are just the sort of conglomerations that make me run in the other direction, far, far away from fusion.

Dungeness Crab Soup with coconut milk, yellow curry, boy choy, scallion, squash and chili. (Sounds pleasingly Thai.)

Sauteed Breast of Duck on bok choy in star anise sauce with duck confit, soba noodles, soy, sesame and chili. (Chinese again?)

Roasted Cattail Creek Farms Lamb Loin and leg on smoked white beans, chili, sun dried tomato, eggplant, garlic, braising greens and pickled shallot. (Could be good, but it sounds really scary to me, lamb with smoked white beans, then chili, sun dried tomatoes, eggplant and pickled anything, All TOGETHER??? It totally wigs me out, I could never order such opposing items all on one plate!)

Here’s the items we did get.You might notice that while each individual starter or entree doesn’t have as many of those discordant combinations you see above, almost every dish seems to be pulled from a different ethnic origin.

Tartare of tuna with fresh pickles and won ton crisps. (Asian/Fusion, with the rather weird addition of the currently ultra-trendy house-made pickles.)
Mixed Greens with Rogue Creamery Gorgonzola, grilled pear, parsnip, toasted walnuts in walnut oil vinaigrette. (Good old NW, with the rather kooky addition of parsnips.)
Seared Snake River Kobe Culotte on grilled sushi rice with spicy scallion nori and poached quail egg. (Japanese/Korean.)
Rabbit Risotto with brussel sprout leaves, onion, apricot, parsnip, goat cheese, manchego and pea shoots. (Although mostly Italian, this risotto had some odd things thrown in, apricots, parsnips and goat cheese, together. And who uses goat cheese and manchego together, it’s a veritable barnyard?)
Miso Glazed Cod and Crisp Spicy Tuna roll in miso-soy dressing with ginger, bok choy, sesame and spinach. (Japanese/Fusion.)
Braised Painted Hills Short Rib in red wine with espresso and IPA braised turnips, greens, kabocha squash and sweet potato terrine. (Portland through and through, Central Oregon beef, red wine, espresso and beer. It’s the Portlandia of dishes.)

Even with such an off-kilter menu, and the fear this always instills in me, every single item we ordered was delicious. a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/52953462@N04/5426668637/” title=”IMG_2061 by Foodie Photoer, on Flickr”>IMG_2061I had quite a bit of David’s Tartare of Tuna, and it was raw fish at its finest, tender and delicate but flavorful. Also really good was my Mixed Green Salad with Gorgonzola, and an added bonus, I forgot all about those nasty parsnips. Actually, Kin is really into those scary growing things, turnips, parsnips, brussel sprouts, eggplant, bok choy, these people sure have not been raiding my larder.

IMG_2068The Seared Kobe Culotte was delicious, so rare, meltingly tender, and lightly marbled, I kind of wish it would have been a cheaper cut of meat so the serving was a bit larger, the flavor was so wonderful and the perfect combination with the rich grilled sushi rice and scallion nori. Despite the very unorthodox combo of ingredients, Glenda truly enjoyed the Rabbit Risotto and savored every hop (whoops, I mean bite, although our esteemed Grande Madame really seems to have it in for our adorable little cotton-tailed woodland friends.)

Glenda’s Braised Short Rib was incredibly impressive when it came out, so giant, meaty, and wonderfully sauced, looking almost lacquered, it could have fallen off the cover of Bon Appetit. IMG_2070Despite the fact that Glenda doesn’t look like she’d put away that much food, she’s quite the robust eater, always having starter or salad, entree, and dessert, and this is one of the few times i remember her taking food home, and in this case a substantial amount, almost half, it was so hearty. It was also so delicious, she insisted we all have a bite, and it really was the best thing at the table all night.

David and I both had the same entree, the Miso Glazed Cod and Crispy Spicy Tuna Roll. The preparation on the cod was quite similar to some of the seafood we had eaten at the wonderful (and now closed) Fin, really rich and uniquely flavored from the miso glaze, and practically a work of art. IMG_2069I totally loved the texture of the Crispy Spicy Tuna Roll (yes, crispy) and the whole thing made for a truly interesting plate of food. Intriguing though it was, I would say it probably suited David’s palate more than mine, largely because my enjoyment of miso is only moderate and I’ve never been a fan of soy sauce, and largely avoid it, so while I enjoyed this whole beautiful and unusual plate of food, miso-soy dressing would never be on my favorite flavors list, and I probably would not order this again for that reason. If you enjoy both miso and soy though, perfect.

I think our good buddy Mr. D. likes to be a contrarian, so if I say he never orders dessert, he naturally has to make sure he orders dessert at a dinner soon after (this is the man who had coffee for his birthday dessert.) IMG_2071Or maybe he just like the food at Kin THAT much. Whatever his fiendish reason, he did actually order a cute little dessert at Kin, which was a little sandwich thingee with two dark chocolate cookies and salted caramel ice cream inside. Just his size, and he seemed to find it scrumptiously delicious. Glenda and I, always more hedonistic, had the simple sounding Chocolate Caramel Tarte, which was basically an extravaganza of richness, a layer of bittersweet chocolate, a layer of intense chocolate ganache, shortbread on the bottom and drizzled with caramel. Really intense, in a manageable way, sophisticated, beautiful to look at, and a chocolate lover’s dream. Although I’m often iffy when it comes to too much dark chocolate, I thought this was superior to almost every chocolate thing I’ve had over the last year, except for that malted milk cake I had at Acadia a year ago and that really cold salted chocolate concoction I had at Castagna early is 2010.

All of us (yes, all three) agreed that Kin was a well run restaurant with friendly, professional service, really pleasant atmosphere, and original, intensely flavored, beautifully presented food. IMG_2073The most disappointing part of our evening was the fact that although it was a Friday night in The Pearl, Kin was only moderately busy. We did dine early, however, but I didn’t really see any sign of increasing business when we left, there were some empty tables. This is too bad, this is really an interesting place, if you can just put aside your aversion to Chinese/Italian/Latin American combos. If I can do it, surely anyone can.

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