50 Plates- Dinner version   Leave a comment

Visited 50 Plates for dinner this time before going to Powell's for some continued foodie fun to hear from the editors of the Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant Guide (a book of reviews written by chefs, food bloggers, and foodies of Portland restaurants) instead of a "professional". Well, ok some of them might be in the industry but at least everyone is reviewing without the chefs and waiters knowing they are being judged- a la Ruth Reichl. Actually, a better comparison might be the Phantom Gourmet that I adore in Boston. Also at this event, I'm sure other foodies will be in attendance.

Anyway, 50 Plates. As I had already realized after my first visit, this is not a place that actually has 50 different kind of plates on its menu so that you can have "dim sum" style tastings of the 50 states (or various states). Instead, they seem to have samplings of All-American food taken to a fancier level. In this new take on America, the look is super-contemporary (well, basically probably what the loft dwellers in Portland's Pearl decorated their condo units all around), a American yuppie who wants American classics that have been made more hip.

And so, the salt dispenser is a cute conversation piece that tries to toe the line between form and function by being all cleverly designed, and the booths in the restaurant section look like they come from a lounge and should be part of the happy hour, but the happy hour area has super modern white chairs that would also fit in Departure Lounge. Everything is black and white.

Lemon drop with 5 spice sugar rim is an easy drink to enjoy.

Who can resist warm sourdough rolls and biscuits?

The fries with homemade ketchup were just as crispy as when I had them at lunch- great consistency. The other starter was cheesy poofs- little fluffy yukon potato and white cheddar deep fried bites. They look like bar food that would be greasy and heavy like Bennigan's (RIP) broc and cheese bites, tater tots, or fried mac and cheese, but as soon as you pick one up, you realize how wrong you are. They are light and fluffy like… well, cheetos, but so much tastier and fresh. Clever.

Vegetarian wise, the succotash with with asparagus, corn, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini and red bell pepper had a rich broth that satisfied on flavor, though the sweet potato puree on the side was a poor sidekick. My spice rubbed lamb chops with anderson ranch lamb, pittsburgh potatoes, locally grown arugula, roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes, & emerald mustard suffered similar grades with its accompaniments. The lamb chops were seasoned and cooked perfectly with the right amount of crispy crust on the outside but juicy medium inside, but the potatoes were drowned in cream (only the crisp burnt parts merited anything), and there were too few of the arugula (maybe a handful of small stems) and tangy cherry tomatoes (again, less then a handful) to balance that richness. I appreciated the whole roasted garlic but seriously- I was given more garlic then veggies. Didn't even notice the mustard below.

For the price tag on my lamb, I expected more. But, everything else delivered, and the lamb and garlic did try to stand on its own without much side support, so I'll be back. Besides… when the waiter delivered the check, look what fabulous freebie they also gave us to end our meal on a sweet note? Who can resist a goodbye kiss of chocolate richness like this and not want to come back?

I haven't read the Fearless Critic restaurant guide, but I like the concept. As soon as I saw that first 50 pages of indexes by best food, best atmosphere, types of cuisine, neighborhood, type of outing (more focused on beer? wine? outdoors?)and also late night (and other categories), I loved how usable it was. This is definitely written by people who understand what it's like to suddenly have to answer the question "where should we go eat?". I think they missed, somehow, the incredible cocktail and also happy hour scene here (cocktails are barely described, and restaurants are rated for beer or wine or drinks, but apparently can't get scored on all 3?), but they did include food carts. There is a happy hour guide out there, but I don't think it has much value- I would trust the write-up of Fearless Critic more because the happy hour book has the substance of a yelp review, while fearless critic at least sounds like there may have been multiple contributors. Oh well, maybe an enhancement for next edition? Or version?

Most cool is besides the book, they also are going to try a subscription version online. Because honestly, I am not going to always have that book in my back pocket, but looking up something at work if there is an impromptu "let's go someplace" or on a mobile device is definitely do-able. Robin (the editor) mentioned that he's been told subscription sites don't work, but a real foodie wouldn't blink at $10 for an app- as long as it is continously updated. Overall, Fearless Critic reminds me a bit of Metromix and Foodie App in Chicago: Metromix is similar to Yelp but had a great search function that Fearless Critic has with its indexes, and each review seems like a summary of a discussion that would have occured in LTH Forum.


Or better, wouldn't it be awesome if it is the step that finally starts to build a Portland foodie community? Robin told me that Portland Food and Drink is a contributor to the book. I visit that site once in a while but it doesn't have the same community that LTH Forum does with its boards that allow everyone to have a discussion with pictures, setting up events, translating "secret menus" at ethnic restaurants, even giving out awards to restaurants that are small and up and coming to give them more exposure. Forming a community is the key here because it opens up a discussion instead of a one-sided communication that gets people involved and continues to grow the collective knowledge. Portland Food and Drink reminds me of a local egullet, particularly because of ties to those in the industry vs just those laypeople who like to enjoy good food.

For instance, Phantom Gourmet eventually evolved to have its own community and even its own food festival. Phantom also is a TV show, and has a powerful effect just like the "Check Please" phenomenon in Chicago where once it aired, no one could get into the restaurant anymore because the secret was out and thousands would descend on a "secret gem". Phantom Gourmet's take was similar to Fearless Critic in that it is always an anonymous critic, while Check Please had the genius idea to take 3 people's favorite restaurants and send the other 2 to each of them- and then get them all at the table to talk about their experiences (which I also think Fearless Critic seems to hint that it does). Check Please did a good job of mixing up the restaurants and types of people who would appear, and it was hosted by Alpana Singh- so although not anonymous, it was reviews by the average consumer while also giving a small segment time to profile the restaurant owner/chef on what they are trying to do. 

Often these gems were already well known in the LTH Forums… so the amount of success if Fearless Critic (or even Portland Food and Drink) could have if it was the harbinger on the newly discovered secret gem would be huge, and foodies would be willing to pay a small premium to that insider information. Or, it can be a revealer to the public- a la Phantom Gourmet or Check Please. 

With all the great food here, I know there must be a foodie community out there- but I maybe just haven't found it yet. Fearless Critic is going to need to reach them in order to make this work- so I'm definitely keeping my eye on them.   


Posted December 1, 2009 by pechluck in Uncategorized

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