The sleek, stacked stone dessert cases that greet you as you walk into 50 Plates signal you've entered concept-restaurant territory. Sitting behind glass and lit from behind, the cakes look more like museum pieces than after-dinner treats. Which, oddly enough, works as a theme, since the idea behind this newish restaurant is all about showcasing the United States.
To display the breadth and depth of American regional cuisine, Joe and Ginger Rapport of JoPa Northwest Grill gathered a collection of favorite recipes from across the culinary map and tweaked them for Pearl District patrons. In many cases, they succeed. But with a state-skipping menu that covers everything from oyster po' boys to Cincinnati-style chili, there's also the occasional clunker.
Anything involving produce is a sure bet, which is of little surprise since Ginger Rapport is market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. The salads are excellent across the board. During growing months, try the simple Victory Garden ($8.50), made up of whatever is fresh from the market, lightly dressed with a surprisingly subtle maple-lemon vinaigrette. Earthy sweet salt-roasted beets ($4.50), cooked until tender yet still toothsome, are great as a side or appetizer.
The humble slider burger has been expanded to a fulllineup of Silver Dollar Sammies ($3.50 each) featuring a mini Kobe burger as well as a dry chicken-and-waffle entry ("The Roscoe") and a fried-green-tomato sandwich that suffers from an overload of goat cheese. Other ho-hum offerings include an under-seasoned chicken pot pie ($9.50).
At 50 Plates, the kitchen shines most consistently during the dinner hours, producing the sort of gateway dishes your visiting parents from the Midwest can feel comfortable ordering while still challenging their palates. A recent Steakhouse Trifecta ($25.50) is a take on the meat-potato-salad standard, with a tiny but perfectly cooked and sauced cube of Kobe flanked by a wedge of dressed romaine and a croquetteish gratin with smoky bacon. A winner on other visits has been the fish in summer succotash bouillon (market price). The last permutation included squash, green beans, sweet kernels of corn and a seared piece of tombo tuna that could have easily stood on its own. These days, the kitchen's serving trout.
Dessert is easy at 50 Plates. Anything involving the house-made ice cream is a win. The Blushing Betty toffee-oat and rhubarb crumble ($6.50) is good. Pair it with sour-cream strawberry ice cream and it's fantastic. Add on an inventive cocktail, and good luck prying the smile from your face.