Friday, August 26, 2016


I haven't been to a restaurant with this much vim in what feels like forever.  Greg Denton (of Ox acclaim) opened up this eclectic newbie just months ago, and has been rolling with a full house since Day 1.  No surprise, really, given the popularity of Ox and Kask, and also an easily accessible,  prime address smack dab in downtown Portland.

Superbite accentuates the ingenuity of the Portland dining scene, creating a menu sectioned into Bites, Plates and Platters, where the bites are truly one to two bite super-bombs of flavor, plates run in the tapas profile, and platters could be shared by three or four appetites whetted by a sampling of selections from the former.  The room is as bright as the restaurant's prospects, paved in stunning tiles whorled with cobalt and white and lit with glowy pendulous bulbs that come into effect after the sun sets, which was pretty late on a breezy, balmy summer night.  It is also as lively in its noise level, a boisterous din that seemed to elevate throughout the course of the night, as the atmosphere morphed even more festive and celebratory as the evening progressed.

Service is chipper and congenial, but significant lapses in attentiveness occurred on several occasions, where the staff seemed either distracted or lackadaisical, but in either case, inattentive.  We ordered a extraordinary wine (Loureiro-Quinto do Ameal- Vino Verde '14)  but it took an arduous, anticipation-heightening while to arrive.  Noticeable bouts of thumb-twiddling surpassed between courses, and flagging down a server for a question or even our check at the end verged on an animated display of acrobatics.  So to was the wait before our first Bites, although also well worth it.  The first
 thing to hit the table may have been the best dish of the night, an onion ring filled with artichoke custard and heaped with Dungeness crab.  If this was offered as a Platter, I would've taken it.... aye, a true Superbite, in every sense.  I couldn't decide between the mushroom offerings, but at just $3 and $6 dollars respectively, I got them both.  The cheaper one was kinetic: a single grilled shiitake glazed with sauternes hovered over a porcini-dusted
marshmallow.  Sweet and savory and salty, intensely umami, and thankfully, too tiny to share.  I wanted four.  But the guajillo-braised trumpet quickly stole my attentions, saucy and piquant, enriched with little dollops of avocado puree.  The flavor-
packed "gravy" from this bite was supreme swabbed up with the fresh, softly chewy Little T baguette, who's real highlight itself was the ur-butter butter with which it was served, flecked with crystalline shards of glittering salt.

The oddest thing that happened all evening, however, was a gift: our server had, as is due protocol nowadays, inquired of allergies and aversions, to which I imparted that none of the table ate raw fish.   So when the kitchen sent out a Plate of albacore tataki, which was described as "seared" but if the fish felt the heat of the stove for more than a nanosecond I'd be surprised.  For all
 intents and purposes, it was the one thing we said we didn't want.  That said, carving off the done-est edges slathered with in a jammy blueberry kosho and superlatively crunchy frizzles of onion were
really most excellent.  And the third diner at our table decided it was cooked enough for him and cleaned the plate.  Peculiar blip, however, with such a vast menu to choose from, and although obviously you can't look a gift horse in the mouth, there were so many dishes on the menu I wanted to try (such as the saffron cuttlefish noodles or the halibut brandade fishstick) that it was harder to appreciate the generosity.

A Plate of snap peas and lobster mushrooms with corn was quick to soothe any woes, however, rich with dashi butter but freshened with all that produce and wisps of shiso.   This one is a must-order.    Corn and mushrooms featured 
prominently in a bibimbap-style polenta Plate, the nubby, hyper0corny porridge surrounded by an array of tasty condiments: salty petals of thinly sliced speck, gripping, rough-cut green olives, tangy roasted cherry tomatoes and pungent curds of parmesan.  Roasted cauliflower with sesame and tobiko was big, and more than flavorful enough to satisfy, but it was still just vegetable, maybe best as a shared side or compliment to some of the heartier Bites and Plates.  One of example of these were the BBQ beef shortribs, a bit fatty for my tastes, served with a dense Ecuadorian potato pancake studded with sharp
 Vermont cheddar and and flurry of cilantro-flecked greens atop.  We didn't venture upon any of the Platters, much more of a commitment at the $42-$78 dollar range, but of course these are shareable and actually pretty reasonably priced.

 A return visit (which now seems inevitable) would definitely include those, and perhaps as a concession to cost we might forgo dessert, none of which inspired the same excitement as the savory courses preceding them.  Actually, the Stout syrup egg cream accompanying three bite-sized raspberry turnovers was magnificent, and I would recommend this dessert just for that.  The jammy little berry pockets were intensely raspberry-y, but they tasted just as you thought they would, and the additional caramel corn drizzled with creme anglaise was amusing but superfluous.  Baked Cana de Oveja seeped out a little too greasily, slicking excellent blackberries with a coat they would've been better off without.  The interior of the puck of cheese was creamier, pairing better with the berries, but by the time I got to it I was too filled with grilled cheese to really appreciate it.
 Probably I would've been better off with the
Viridian peach sorbet float with prosecco, but with the lovely Vinho Verde from dinner it would've had stiff competition for sipping superiority.

Speaking of which, we selected that wine from a frugal standpoint, allowing the somm to guide us between two of the lower priced bottles, which were still not cheap.  Bottles in the $40+ range are sparse, and skyrocket into triple digits from there on.  Luckily, what we chose was really one of the highpoints, but there deserve to be more accessible bottles on such a quirky menu.  In retrospect, you might be better off going with the draft glasses, which look at least as if not more interesting. But this is a minor snafu in comparison to my enjoyment of Superbite as a whole.  It totally lives up to its name: pretty damned super in every sense.   So super, in fact, it seems to have knocked it's own dot off it's "i".

 527 S.W. 12th
tel.  (503)222-0979
Reservations for parties of six or more

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