It is probably a testament to the extreme saturation of Portland's food scene (or, even more likely, to its happily provincial insularity) that a one-time Food & Wine magazine top new chef—indeed, one of the pioneers of French-Asian cuisine in this country—could open a restaurant this past summer to barely a peep in the food press. Still, Kevin Shikami (formerly of Jimmy's Place, Kevin and Shikago in my own former Windy City stomping grounds) appears to have had a soft open, judging from the sparse crowds on my visits to his new, casual-chic Pearl District restaurant, Kin.
Take this perhaps-brief obscurity as a chance, especially, to try Shikami's longtime signature dish, now newly transported to Portland. Kin's wasabi-spiked tartare of tuna ($12), is a near-grotesquely sensuous pleasure, one I felt like I shouldn't be having in public: tender and rich and gently spiced to tease the tongue. The dish's wonton pagoda architecture, though pretty for plating, was also pretty much irrelevant: I went straight for the meat, and for sex metaphors usually reserved for chocolate.
The rest of the menu follows Portland's tradition of rotating, locally based, seasonal foods; the menu changes, of course, nearly daily, and oscillates widely between French and pan-Asian influences. Still, Shikami does seem to have a consistent yen for ostrich, which tastes a bit like a lean, sweet beef; a recent balsamic seared-ostrich salad with apples, sweet onion and pistachio ($10) was a successful mixture of flavors: tart, sweet, bitter and savory. His pinpoint-balanced preparation of black cod with miso glaze (mated with a slightly less exciting soy-yuzu salmon, $23) is also likely to be one of my dining highlights of the past months, as will a scallop and turnip pairing ($12) felicitous enough that I barely noticed it was accented with bacon. (And believe me, I always notice the bacon.)
This is not to say that everything on the menu succeeds equally, nor that the menu always keeps pace with the lighter, more esoteric fashions of the current fooderati. Occasionally the continental ingredients serve only to domesticate or even weigh down the more exotic notions—as in Kin's bland happy-hour corn-and-coconut wontons ($4). Sometimes his ambitiously diversified plating fails to gel into any dominant flavor, as in a recent under-citrused hamachi ceviche ($12) featuring wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe), mango, ginger and cucumbers. I was also unconvinced that gelatinous pork belly paired well with the doughy softness of Chinese-style steamed buns ($9), even with the added crackle of Napa cabbage. Go for the straight-up, oh-so-soft pork-belly sushi ($8) instead: trust me.
The highs of Kin far outweigh the lows, however, and even the missteps are interesting on the palate, a side effect of a chef unafraid to reinvent each dish over and over—except, of course, for that tuna tartare, which we are assured will always remain available.
- Order this: Tartare of tuna ($12), every time.
- Best deal: Try the Malaysian-style chicken wings ($6), if theyâre around.
- Iâll pass: Iâll mostly pass on the check, if I canâa meal for two will total about a C-note if youâre doing it right and slipping around the various small plates before sharing an entree.