The wood is burnished, the booths deep, the walls an unassuming beige. The muted fluorescent light displays of Portland’s modernist Director Park—which dominate the restaurant’s second-story picture windows—subtly simulate the ghostly, flickering reds and blues of an always-on television. Vintage nautical pictures adorn the restaurant’s walls, while the lounge sports a mammoth, trophied whale jaw, a none-too-subtle sign that this is a place where mad Ahab actually gets his prey. The restaurant was House Speaker John Boehner’s choice during his last stopover in Portland.
The overall effect is of landed, domestic, heavy-on-the-seat luxury—the preferred style of both Washington, D.C., and the country’s various upscale provinces. It is money with which one can sit comfortably. So, even given its excellent sourcing (the menu rotates both daily and seasonally) and the obvious delicacy of preparation, the cuisine is aimed more at the palate of Terre Haute than that of the haute; the byword is not so much innovation or novelty as it is comfort and execution and a simple sense of being spoiled, recession be damned. Heck, the menu even sports a ’70s-style filet mignon surf ’n’ turf ($52).
When it comes to the meat, RingSide does consistently well what other kitchens mundanely struggle to achieve. Cuts of rare steak nearly two inches thick are served warm, with uniform tender redness from fringe to fringe and no hint of the raw. Equally thick scallops are cooked to a satisfying, unrubbery firmness. Trout swoons under crisped skin. The filets provide most of their own flavor, so the execution and selection here are all but impossible to fake; this kitchen knows its way around a cut.
The shellfish were fresh and diverse, featuring an excellent, eight-variety selection of Pacific Coast oysters ($2.50 to $3.50 each), but accompanied by a forgettable, somewhat cloying Champagne mignonette. Diners get none of the subtle pear or apple flavors one finds at, say, Paley’s Place. Rubbery surf clams were also an unfortunate substitution for the just out-of-season clams on the small seafood platter ($25).
The Fish House does also occasionally stumble with garnishes. The aforementioned succulent scallops ($27) were served on a bed of lentil, carrot reduction and red wine gastrique that never managed to blend into coherent flavor or texture. And while a lobster soup ($9) was beautifully subtle with just a hint of lemon and chive, an ahi tuna tartare ($12) was marred by too much brightly acidic onion.
Dessert-side, the dulce de leche underwhelmed but the fruit desserts were stellar, in particular a fresh-pear ice cream that improbably not only mimicked the slightly granular texture of pear, but had also somehow refined the flavor of the fruit into near-numbing intensities.
For the budget-conscious, the bar’s happy-hour prices—small plates range from $2.25 to $4.75—stay south of the menu’s other heights, although portions and in some cases ingredients follow the course. Truly, the restaurant is recommended much less as a cocktail hangout than as an upper-middle-class throne room, power-meal luxe with wine and whiskey and filet of something, excess flexing its marbled muscles.
- Order this: The menu changes, but if it was once an animal—whether walking, seabedded or aswim—it’ll be your oyster. Also, get the oysters.
- Best deal: The bar happy hour is cheapest, but the true deal is the $35 three-course special, served before 5:45 pm and after 9 pm.
- I’ll pass: Surf clams. Tuna tartare (try the one at Kin instead). And eat those oysters sans sauce.
GO: RingSide Fish House, 838 SW Park Ave., 227-3900, ringsidefishhouse.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday. Dinner 5-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 4-10 pm Sunday. $$$$.