Your first bite at Park Kitchen is never something you ordered. Unbidden, Scott Dolich's kitchen always delivers a flip phone-sized portion of something fresh, as if the chef sent it just for you.

In a tight-quartered, open-kitchen room that looks like the essence of Portland 2003—earth-toned fruit paintings, high brick walls—Park Kitchen still defies expectations.

Photo: Lauren Kinkade
Photo: Lauren Kinkade

Clams may come marinated in gin and freed from their shells on a pagoda of thin toast ($15), while sweet and sour eggplant may be paired with equally pungent anchovies and acidic late-summer tomatoes ($14).

Neither dish should have worked: One looked overlabored, the other too self-similar in texture. But both struck an unlikely balance, and sparked a jolt of recognition.

By the time tender mustard pork roast ($30) arrives with both watermelon and its pickled rinds, you've gotten used to the pattern of your meal: suspense, surprise and then comforting relief.

Photo: Lauren Kinkade
Photo: Lauren Kinkade

Pro tip: Show up at happy hour (before 6 pm) to get a $6 old fashioned or martini, and escape the Kitchen's uniformly egregious drink markup.

GO: 422 NW 8th Ave., 233-7275, parkkitchen.com. 5-9 pm nightly. $$-$$$.