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7th September
written by spd
View of Park Kitchen from the window.  (img: New York Times)

View of Park Kitchen from the window. (img: New York Times)

Once again, the New York Times has led me to a food find! On our first night in Portland, Oregon, I decided to give a two-year old recommendation a go. In David Laskin’s April 2007 article in the NYT Travel Section, he writes of Park Kitchen: “In a former garage, the restaurant has a warren of dark and cozy rooms that faces an open kitchen, where the chef and owner, Scott Dolich, combines elements of French, Italian and Northwestern cooking in an imaginative fusion all his own… The food may sound fussy, but the results are subtly superb.”

Well, my friends, his words were well chosen! Dolich’s modus operandi has Pacific Northwest written all over it… even if his cooking techniques are French or Italian. He routinely checks with local purveyors, and conceives dishes based on what seasonal ingredients are available. Apples and stone fruit grow here in abundance, and you’ll find them in many dishes. Heavy rainfall makes Oregon an ideal environment for growing mushrooms, another ingredient that surfaces here.

There were many ingredients that raised questions at the table… What’s purslane? Hyssop? Amaranth? Nasturtiums? (Most are greens that appear in lovely salads, like the Peach and Blackberry salad, with Pecans, Purslane and Crumbled Feta.) Fear not. If your dish sounds like a Top Chef challenge, it will arrive and taste like artfully prepared comfort food!

One of the most comforting dishes we tried was the Semolina dumplings, Piperade and Lobster Mushroom Succotash. The same lobster mushrooms were used to make a sauce for our Gnocci with Grilled Corn. Unlike the pillowy gnocchi you’d find at Becco or the like, these were quite dense and pan fried after being boiled, much like Polish pierogi. With the sweet grilled corn, the dish resisted becoming unseasonally heavy and was a nice prelude to our entree, Roast Pork with Beans, Fennel, and Gooseberry salsa. The pork was quite lean and thinly sliced, so it’s even more impressive that the meat was deliciously moist. Unannounced clusters of house-made sausage added layers to the pork’s flavor, and the gooseberry salsa was like an invitation to Fall.

The best bites, however, bookended the evening. The Duck Confit Crepe with Basil, Feta was accompanied by heavenly grilled peaches, and the mind-blowing dessert that concluded our meal – The Plum and Tomato crisp with Basil Ice Cream – is a perfect example of sweet-and-savory done right! There wasn’t anything trying about the dish; Flavors that aren’t necessarily associated with dessert were not only harmonious, but bettered the dish.

Although Dolich and Co. have no shortcomings n the kitchen, the restaurant’s design leaves something to be desired. I think a rather charming meal can be had overlooking the park outside, or at one of two or three coveted tables up front, but once you pass the bar and step into the back dining room, you’re in a rather dull space. Not the most appetizing green on the walls, and the banquettes are sort of outdated. Perhaps, if they dimmed the bright pendant lighting, and put candles on the copper-top tables, they might save in renovation costs. Still, if it’s not a great setting for a candlelit date, it’s a great place for friends and eat, drink, and be merry. And save room for dessert!

Park Kitchen. 422 NW 8th Ave.  Portland, OR 97209-3529.  ph.  (503) 223-7275

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