The newly overhauled Southpark restaurant (901 SW Salmon St., 503-326-1300, southparkseafood.com) is like Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid and the girl he wants to date: different, but same.
This June, the 18-year-old downtown eatery—best known for paella, old people and the giant fish erupting from its exterior wall—breathlessly unveiled an expensive makeover. The place is lighter and brighter, and it's added a pair of refurbished bars, although the overall feeling inside the restaurant is not much different: It's a little touristy, a little pricey, a little overbusy with staff.
But the food is new. The paella is gone, replaced by a modern small-plates menu that includes a pistachio-brittle beet salad ($8) and an octopus, melon and blood sausage dish ($15) that were both ambitious and frankly terrific.
On the new, elbowed oyster bar up top—where chefs steam over from the kitchen to angrily grab whole crabs by the claws—there's a 20-foot seafood counter display with 13 kinds of oyster even in July (half-dozens are a hefty $18), including varietals from New Zealand and Canada. Refugees from New England will behold a treat rare on the West Coast: briny half-shell clams the size of a fist.
The downstairs bar has now taken over the entirety of Southpark's lower end, and the $9-to-$12 cocktails are new—gin drinks with not just lemon zest but juice and marionberry cocktails that announce their freshness.
A disappointing $17 pork-topped hamburger, meanwhile, is somehow still too light on the meat with a distractingly hearty bun. Southpark remains a perplexing place—and yet, for the first time in years, it also seems like a place worth paying attention to.