Knowing that Portland is close-by, and given that our largest customer (you know for the day job) is in the Rose City as well as some of the Food Girl’s family, I’ve started compiling a list of places I want to go in my handy-dandy spreadsheet. So, when I finally made it down to Portland for work, and was ready to go out to dinner after a long day on site, I went to pull up my list of restaurants and low-and-behold, I hadn’t entered them into my Urbanspoon wishlist. But, being the resourceful foodie that I am, I just pulled up the Urbanspoon Talk of the Town and found a place that was only about a half mile from our hotel called the Little Bird. I went to the website, check out the menu, and decided it sounded perfect. I went to make a reservation, but seeing no easy one-click way to do it (meaning no OpenTable link), I figured we would just head down and worst case grab a seat in the bar. There were only 3 of us and it was a Tuesday night. Yeah, I was wrong (of course I’m the same guy that still hasn’t eaten at Staple and Fancy because I never make a reservation).
Anyway, we started to make our way back toward the hotel, figuring we would run into something, but we never seemed to be on the right street, or places that looked interesting were closed. Plus, I was taking pity on the people I was with because while I have no problem walking around for 45 minutes looking for an interesting place or something I saw on Urbanspoon that struck my fancy, my co-workers don’t always feel the same way. Finally, as we were within about two blocks of our hotel we saw Higgins, and to them it must have seemed like a beacon of light, so we headed in.
We sat down, and I took a look a the place. My first thought was that it was either dated, or trying too hard to be elegant. I think it really is a combination of both. The tables had white tablecloths, and there was some dark wood on the walls and bronze sconces for lighting. But everything felt a little dated, almost like it was sagging just a little bit; from the walls to the silverware, to the tired old looking menus that were handed to us by a waitress that just felt like she’d put in her time (not trying to be mean, she was nice, but just seemed a little tired as well).
She took our drink orders, and told us the specials. While she went off to get the drinks, I took a look at the menu and since nothing really jumped off the page at me, I decided I would go with both the appetizer special of a stuffed calamari and the dinner special of the petrale sole. After she took our orders, some bread was brought to the table and there was some olive oil for dipping. Apparently it was a house recipe, and it was ok. Better than some of the oils I’ve purchased and used, though probably not better than the one I currently have at home.
I had decided to go with the appetizer special had sounded interesting as it was a stuffed calamari. Basically the tubules were filled with clam and house-cured ham, and served over the
tentacles in a red tomato sauce. It kind of looked like lightly grilled slugs when it arrived, not quite what I was expecting. But, I cut into one of the “slugs” and took a bite. The flavors were ok, lighter than I expected. But it was completely missing clam, and seemed to be mostly just filler and ham (I had to look back at my note to even see there was supposed to be clam). The sauce did add a little bit of sweetness and acidity to the dish which was a nice balance to the filling. Unfortunately though, the thing that got completely lost in the dish was the calamari itself. I don’t know if it was because it was stretched so thin, or just was overpowered by everything else, but it might as well have been sausage casing for what it added.
The entree special was a petrale sole that was basically the fresh fish of the day. It was served over some red potatoes with some “vegetables’. The plate looked very nice when it hit the table, and the first bite was good. The fish was breaded and moist on the inside, and the potatoes were good mashed potatoes. The flavors were definitely very subtle; maybe a little too much. And the “vegetable” which I thought was very thin asparagus when I first saw it was actually an overcooked broccolini I think. But the thing that really got me, and actually kept me from finishing my dinner, was the inexplicable amount of oil and grease all over my plate. It’s like the plate was covered in it, then the potatoes and broccolini were put on it, and then more was added before the fish. The entire dish was just heavy and felt greasy and ended up being pretty unappealing in the end.
When it came time for dessert, I passed and just sipped my drink while waiting to leave. I thought quite a bit about how I wanted to score this. There were some interesting ideas, and I had a bite of one of my colleagues risottos which was one of the better ones I’ve tasted in awhile, but I really couldn’t get past the oily dinner and the appetizer that just seemed to miss a few key things. And I have to say, when I went to mark my Urbanspoon rating, I was shocked by the words from people. It’s like they were eating at a completely different place. Things like “The best food in Portland” and “an absolute treat” definitely didn’t describe my dining experience. And if it is truly indicative of the Portland food scene (which I doubt), then I’m going to start bringing my own food. One reviewer said that it is three strikes and out in their book, and that Higgins has two. For me it’s one and done. There is just too much good food out there, and too many places to try, that unless there was glimpse of something to draw me back, I’m just moving on. And I’m moving on from Higgins.