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January 15th, 2014 MATTHEW KORFHAGE | Food Reviews & Stories
 

A Comfortable Davenport

Kevin Gibson’s new restaurant is a paragon of refined simplicity.

dish_davenport_4011CHRISTMAS ON A PLATE: Red-breasted duck with a wreath of flayed green Brussels sprouts. - IMAGE: Bethlayne Hansen
Everything about Davenport is quiet. But the new East Burnside Street restaurant from former Evoe chef Kevin Gibson and wine expert Kurt Heilemann, ensconced in the cozy former June space, started service almost secretly in November. Heilemann announced the place with an offhand email after the doors were already open.

Consider it confidence masquerading as humility—the same sort on display in the food. Gibson eschews distracting spice, offering instead elegant showcases for a small number of ingredients, subtle twists on Continental classics. Heartbreakingly soft agnolotti ($16)—a pillow-shaped ravioli—balances the zings of celery root and Meyer lemon, bound together by gluten and Parmesan. It’s like a tryst with an old flame, all familiar comforts and prickling novelty.

The warm-toned space has the feeling of a well-appointed home pantry. Dry vines obscure the exit sign above the door, next to boxes of food supplies. From the open kitchen, Gibson presides over the restaurant with a civilized calm, dressed in a homey Mr. Rogers button-down and sweater. He looks less like a chef than an architect—or maybe your personal therapist, here to affirm that your recent breakup was for the best.

At tucked-in Evoe, Gibson had stripped himself down to the austere basics with small plates and sandwiches, concocting meticulously balanced intensities in herb, oil, pepper and brine. At Davenport, this approach blossoms into a menu that stretches amiably from scallop crudo to a Basque cheese plate with kiwi, in serving sizes that are comfortably neither taster nor entree; two diners might split three or four plates.

Some dishes, such as the hazelnut-vinaigrette beets ($12), have survived from Evoe, but most are new from day to day, and have far more interesting ambitions. Take, for example, a recent cuttlefish and kohlrabi ($16). The two were cut so as to be a visually indistinguishable salad of white, a crudo with the occasional unexpected firmness of a root vegetable. And yet despite the Asian accents of sesame, chili and shiso, the plate felt like a Mediterranean drinking dish, an elevated cicchetto best taken with the bar’s sterling Dolin-Boodles Negroni ($10).

The goulash ($18) was a surprisingly pristine affair: slow-cooked, paprika-sauced pork that was less fork-tender than it was spoon-tender. The coup de grâce was the side of crisped spaetzle-like noodles, a hand-me-down from Gibson’s grandma Betty: It felt like Austrian comfort amid Hungarian spice, a heartening reunion of the Hapsburgs. The tenderly red-breasted duck—salted just so—was Christmas on a plate, with a wreath of flayed green Brussels sprouts and scarlet pomegranate seeds playing bitter against sweet like an old German poet.

The cocktails are stolidly classic, the beers often Belgian-inflected. But ask for a wine pairing. Heilemann is a resource one should make ample use of; his eight by-the-glass selections are pleasantly idiosyncratic and broad-ranging. With the piment d’Espelette-accented cauliflower soup ($9) and agnolotti, he offered the COS Rami, a dry-tart Sicilian white with more than enough body from grape-skin flavors to hold up to the rich and herbal notes in those two dishes.

Interestingly, Davenport’s arrival ties together with fellow Genoa alum John Taboada’s Luce and Navarre restaurants to create something of a neighborhood food philosophy: wine-happy Continental fare served in nearly domestic comfort, with a meticulous dedication to bringing out the flavor of a dish’s basic ingredients without baths of salt, garlic or spice. There are no fireworks displays, no fried-kale umami bombs or bone-marrow chowder bowls, but it is no small feat to make such simplicity feel like decadence. 

  • Order this: To split, get the bread plate ($3), a salad (endive or radicchio), a meat dish and an experiment of your choosing.
  • Best deal: Order expensive things. $18 meals can plausibly stand alone; otherwise you’ll want a pair of $14 or $16 plates.

EAT: Davenport, 2215 E Burnside St., 236-8747, davenportpdx.com. 4-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 pm Friday-Saturday.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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