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Dinner in the City

Thursday 9 September 2010

Our first meal in town was at Portland City Grill, high up in the US Bancorp Building in lovely downtown Portland.

This is a classic big-city fancy-dress restaurant. It’s relatively dark to make for a date-night atmosphere. There’s a big bar with two large servings wells, surrounded by booths and high tables. There are a number of low booths along windows looking out (from 30 stories up) on the Willamette River and downtown Portland. The dining room has a tables along the window (expect a wait, even with a reservation) and booths and tables away from the windows. Along the hall from the elevators to the dining room are private wine cellars.

We had a 20 minute wait for a window table, even with prompt arrival for our 8:30 reservation on Friday. The bar was about 75 percent full; the dining room was completely full, and stayed that way until we left after 10:30. Seating is far enough apart that “full” does not feel crowded.

While waiting we had a drink in the bar. There was a TV tuned to a game over the bar, with the sound off. Drinks, sidecars and lemon drops, were excellent. Our waitress was friendly and efficient; when we wanted to chat with her, she was there, and she knew how to be scarce when we didn’t want to talk (to her, anyway). The bar tab was invisibly moved to our dinner tab.

Dinner service was equally efficient. Our waiter was informative about preparations and ingredients, but didn’t do the description of each ingredient, its provenance, family history, and turn-ons that can be really overbearing in the wrong setting (as this was).

Okay, food. We started with the five-spice Peking duck and seared ahi tuna appetizers. The  ahi tuna was excellent, seared just to cook the outer layer while leaving the inside just barely warm and red. Herself was impressed, and she is Queen of The Ahi. Better still was the Peking duck–a duck leg and thigh, crispy skin and tender flesh, with a half-dozen pillow-soft steamed buns and a ramekin of sesame Hoisin sauce, all served in an oversized bamboo steamer (clearly for presentation only). This is also available in the bar, and would make for killer bar food.

I selected the lamb chops for my main; she went with the alder smoked duck. I would say it was a toss-up on which was better. The lamb chops were a pair of three-bone chops served whole. They could not have been cooked more correctly, perfect pink centers. Her duck was also just right; the chef clearly has the crisp-skin-and-moist-meat trick down, a feat many restaurants fail to achieve.

As good as the meats were, the sides were just so-so, mainly acting to deliver an obligatory green and starch but not giving any real sizzle to them. I would have preferred good å la carte veg instead of the ones served with the proteins.

We were stuffed. The meat portions were huge, presaging meals to come through the weekend. We skipped dessert and staggered back to our hotel after this huge meal.

I tried a glass of a Rioja that just didn’t hit the mark for me. It was replaced with a glass of Malbec that worked much better, no charge. Herself tried a local Riesling; a mistake, as usual–it seems only German Rieslings have the right perfume to meet her demands.

Would we go back? Maybe. This is an excellent example of a restaurant traditionally visited for anniversary and expense account dinners. The food is excellent but in no way challenging. If you want a big occasion dinner where the food needs to be spot-on but not the focus of attention, more of a compliment to the rest of the evening, this is the place for you.

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