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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Portland
Food
Feel
Price
9.5
8.5
$50
Modern
Upmarket restaurant

Hours
Mon–Fri 11:30am–2:00pm
Mon–Fri 5:00pm–9:00pm
Sat 5:00pm–9:00pm

Features Date-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential

www.parkkitchen.com

Pearl District
422 NW 8th Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 223-7275
Park Kitchen
If the Portland School becomes a culinary catch-phrase, this will be its footnote

If Portland is the great postmodern restaurant city, then Park Kitchen is its great postmodern restaurant, unique in its ability to reach across the divisions that mark this gastronomic era, almost singular in its ability to touch—sometimes along the arc of a single dish—the locavores and the hedonists, the eco-watchdogs and the offal fiends.

Consider a simple chilled soup that showed up on a recent lunch menu at Park Kitchen. It was a match of the simple—local beets, bright yogurt—with the profane–bracing chili pepper, gnarls of fatty oxtail. Yet it was also a mini-essay on culinary postmodernism–a movement that’s marked by a newfound appreciation, sometimes to fetishistic proportions, of the foods that the world’s poor have long taken for granted. For generations, Russian peasants have found comfort and sustenance in borscht, while their counterparts in the Caribbean have found it—as we now do too—hanging off the ass of one of the barnyard’s least elegant animals.

Consider a piece of sturgeon—another fish long written off by the elite—cooked as delicately as can be imagined, as moist and squeaky as bluefin tuna sashimi, then bedded on refried black beans and bright yellow peppers. It is a dish that quietly turns fusion into something far more sophisticated and subtle than last decade’s seared tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. Or consider a plate of chestnut gnocchi, with all the warmth of the northern Italian street-food stand, a precious gift in Portland’s rainy winter; a delicate, aromatic house-made hot dog; or a parsnip soup with almonds and caperberries, a daring recipe that relies on exquisite balance.

Even the location is symbolic—one foot is planted firmly in the trendy Pearl, while the other wiggles its toes in the grass of the North Park. In warm weather, the front doors open onto a verdant patio overlooking the garden blocks. Inside, the space is always intimate, with the kitchen very much a part of the room. At night, votives keep things romantically dark.

This restaurant is not for everyone. Portions are small, and the price is not. Every meal is an unknown quantity, and not every risk taken by the kitchen succeeds. But we feel that the adventure justifies the cost. And the bartenders are as dedicated and innovative as the kitchen. A cocktail that one day comes with pear liqueur might the next day be made with pear purée instead. The price-diverse wine list combines a dizzying Pacific Northwest selection with a playful, astute Old World globe-trot.

On the crest of a new wave, Park Kitchen is indisputable proof of Portland’s relevance. The capitals of Europe can keep their Michelin-three-star palaces. We dare them to try making one of these.

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