latin


THE DINING REPORT, OBA!

Can’t chew your meat? Just take $50 off!

IMG_2702The Pearl District is an odd sort of place. You would think that the new, trendy eateries would have the most luck there, but it’s some of those stalwarts from the beginning that seem to have the most luck hanging on, Oba!, Georgios, Piazza Italia, Paragon, PF Chang’s. Although Piazza Italia occasionally makes best of Portland lists, as it’s just so Italian, the rest of them, no accolades for years. Wouldn’t you think the Pearl would have to always have the best of everything? They did get the return of Trader Vic’s, which was an amazingly expensive remodeling project for that location, but as everyone knows, the food at TVs can be very hit or miss (so maybe it WILL survive.) Irving Street Kitchen had lots of buzz in its first year or so, but I haven’t heard too much about it lately, and our group gave it very mixed reviews when we visited there. Kin always gets great press, but that’s another place I haven’t heard any buzz about for months and months, but I assume it’s hanging on. Oven and Shaker seems to be drawing in the masses so far, but the menu is pretty one dimension for fine dining, mostly just pizza. Why doesn’t the Pearl attract and keep destination, fine dining restaurants? (Actually I just thought of one, Metrovino, but that’s far off the beaten track and has lost their highly acclaimed chef to his own restaurant.)

But back to Oba! As I’ve alluded to before, and mentioned back in 2007, when we had our last dinner here, I’ve always had a fond spot in my heart for Oba! (despite her somewhat fading reputation over the last 4-5 years.) It was one of the first restaurants in Portland that defined really cool, cutting edge, from its conversion from warehouse (garage?)  to gorgeous eatery space, to its Nuevo Latin menu, to the packed and crazy happy hour in the bar. IMG_2701In the beginning it was a bit on the more expensive side, but the food always lived up to the hype. During the middle years the prices hit a Pearl District stride, but the menu didn’t necessarily up the ante from a quality standpoint. Nowadays, Oba! is really expensive (I painfully laughed when in the three days between me deciding to do Oba! and sending out the RSVP a whole new website appeared, with higher prices!) but although many of the favorites are still really good, other items seem prepared with a lack of consistency, perhaps a bit surprising since Oba! has kept its chef, Scott Neumann, from day one.

There continue to be plenty of good things about Oba! worth mentioning, and it is a good place for a special occasion dinner if you have lots of bucks (a category that eliminates most of the people who actually attended this dinner.) When I made the reservation, they asked me if it was a special occasion, a question I get quite often if I’m asking for a table for 8 or more. I said that as it happened, one of the attendees was having a birthday (close enough, one day off.) When we arrived at the restaurant, one of the staff walked over and placed a card at our table that said “Happy Birthday.” Inside was a certificate for a free dessert. I know all kinds of places give you free desserts for your birthday (Andina gave me one a couple of birthday’s ago) but they usually don’t do it in such a classy manner, and it was a really nice touch, especially as the recipient was a big Latin dessert gobbler. (more…)

Oba! logoIn the nine years since it has opened, Oba! has always been a model of consistency in the Pearl. It has never changed ownership. The chef, Scott Neuman, has been there since day one, as well as its NuevoLatino menu. The prime rib, queso fundido, and coconut prawns are some of the most delicious items prepared on the Portland dining scene. The happy hour in the bar is one of the best values in town, and is always packed, as well as the outdoor seating in the summer, and the dramatic dining room all times of the year. In the dining area, I have never had bad service, and for some reason the waiters always seem to be tall, dark, and exceedingly good looking. And the bathrooms have always been too small to handle the crush of beautiful people huddled there waiting for those elusive two stalls (and whatever you have in the male equivalent.)

I’ve always loved Oba!, both because of its dark and surrealistically lit dining room, and it’s “NuevoLatino” menu, which according to its website touches on the cuisines of the Caribbean, Cuba, South and Central America, Mexico, and the American Southwest. These are all dramatic kinds of cooking, and most are among my favorites in the world. Although I have eaten many happy hours in the bar in recent years, it has been almost five years since I have dined in the full table luxury of Oba’s! restaurant environs (most of the happy hour tables are tiny,) but having been away five years, I must say, little at Oba! has changed during that time period.

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