Friday, March 14, 2008

Park Kitchen: Good, But Go Early for Bread!

Mom's in town again, which means, among other things, that restaurant madness is in full effect. Last night's post-Zenger outing was to Park Kitchen. Now, I may be the last person in Portland to check PK out, but believe it or not, this was my first time in the place. I wasn't planning on getting any photos, so I didn't bring my camera along, but I couldn't resist poaching this photo from Bay-Area blog Cooking with the Single Guy for its view of the kitchen, and the fact that it prominently features the very table we were seated at.

We ordered a bunch of small plates to share, tapas style. We also ordered some bread and olive oil, but it turned out that they'd run out of bread. This was a little disappointing, especially since their bread is Ken's, which is really good stuff. Now, I've never worked in a professional kitchen, so perhaps I'm venturing a bit too far out of the shallow end of the pool here, but how does a restaurant of this caliber not order enough bread to last through their dinner service? But I digress. First up were salt cod fritters with malt vinegar and chick pea fries with squash ketchup. The fritters were excellent, with the fish placed a little more forward of the potatoes than in other versions of this dish that I've had, which I appreciated. When you order salt cod fritters, you want to taste more than just potato. I'm not a huge fan of malt vinegar, but it worked well with the cod, making for an whimsical riff on fish n' chips. The chick pea "fries" are mashed, baked, breaded and deep fried, then served in a paper cone, belgian style. They could have been a little crisper, but they were well seasoned and the chick peas made for an interesting interior texture. The squash ketchup, which I'm guessing was made with acorn or butternut, had a flavor which was a nice balance of sweet, acidic and spicy; reminiscent, but not too reminiscent, of actual ketchup.

Next up was pork belly with apple, meyer lemon and licorice. The pork belly was braised in a sweet barbecue-like sauce, which made for a meatier texture than you often find with pork belly that's been slow roasted or confited. While the meyer lemon slices added a tartness that nicely complemented the pork and its sauce, the apple and licorice didn't seem to contribute much to this dish.

The last plate was a terrine of pheasant and dried cherries with coarse mustard and pickled beet. I wouldn't have thought of pairing mustard and pickled beet with a game bird paté, but it worked really well. The flavors were well balanced, and the mustard brought a lot to the game in terms of texture.

Going the small plate route left us some room for dessert. I ordered the meyer lemon pudding with pine nut cookies and licorice chantilly. The pudding had a nice clean citrusy flavor and a texture that was somewhere between a curd and a light cake. The macaroon-like cookies were a little on the chewy side, but the licorice chantilly was dead-on and served as a nice counterpoint to the pudding. Mom ordered the pecan parfait, a frozen cream and meringue mixture studded with candied pecans and topped with a mascarpone stuffed praline cannoli. Both desserts were unusual and refreshing; no molten chocolate cake in this place!

The final analysis? I'd say Park Kitchen pretty much lived up to my expectations. Chef Scott Dolich and chef de cuisine David Padberg's creations were imaginative and mostly well executed, the efficient yet amiable antics of the open-kitchen staff made for a good show (remember when getting a table next to the kitchen was considered a bad thing?), the service was excellent, and Heidi Wieser's desserts provided an appropriately light exclamation point to the experience. The meal was good enough that I guess I can even let the bread thing go...

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