Sunday, December 03, 2006

Travel Dish: Park Kitchen in Portland

This is the second in a three-part series looking at my food adventures during a recent trip to Portland, Oregon. Today, a review of one of the many industrial-chic restaurants in the Pearl District/downtown area.
Creative Northwest Dishes in the Park
422 NW 8th, Portland
Lunch, M-F, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Mon.-Sat., 5 p.m. to close.
PH: (503) 223-PARK
(Reservations/major credit cards accepted)

Opened for a few years, Portland's Park Kitchen seems to be poised for even more greatness or over-expansion. At the edge of downtown and the Pearl District along the city's urban park strips, this popular restaurant serves creative Northwest cuisine by chef Scott Dolich, who was named among the Best New Chefs of 2004 by Food and Wine Magazine.

With that distinction, Park Kitchen has continually grown in attention and in recent months has expanded its comfy dining area with a new stylish private dining room next door and extended hours. Will this be enough, or too much?

During a recent visit with my family, Park Kitchen's lime green walls and dark wood welcomed us with a nice freshness and chic urban feel. The service was especially friendly, with a bartender/waiter who knew his stuff and freely engaged with us about our day. (Disclosure: We came with a baby, my 6-month-old niece, so how can you not want to engage in conversation with a cute baby?)

The comfy dining area in the back offers a clear view of the stainless steel kitchen where on this day we were treated to the smell of freshly baked cookies made for sale at the front bar area. That got our appetites going, which was a good thing because Dolich's menu is filled with many enticing choices reflecting fresh, local ingredients--a definite must in Portland's obvious focus on the slow food movement.

Our table was enthralled by the starter soup, a black bean soup with crispy kale. It was delicious and perfect for a fall day. The beet salad was also refreshing with feta cheese and greens (although the red lentils spotting throughout the salad were a bit too much, for me).

For our entrees, my sister had the duck confit reuben sandwich, which was moist and filling. It came looking like a grilled cheese sandwich or panini, and was served with a side of home-made potato chips. My brother-in-law and nephew both gravitated to the buckwheat noodles with braised pork. I was tempted by this dish too but decided three people eating this entree at one table would be a bit too much. So instead we just got a double dose of this slow cooked wonder that was a comfortable pasta dish with subtle flavoring from the meat, cream and slices of cheese.

I decided to go for the seafood stew, hoping to get a taste of some of the Northwest fresh seafood. And I was richly rewarded with the most plumped mussels I've ever eaten mixed in with tasty chorizo, clams, squash, and greens. The light broth was a elegant complement to the fresh ingredients.

Overall, Park Kitchen is a very satisfying eatery for dates or family gatherings. The innovative use of seasonal ingredients make this a clever restaurant offering that, at this point, should be able to keep up with the Northwest cutting edge of eating--if not become even greater.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (perfect for foodies and people looking for a fun food environment)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

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