Seafood restaurant openings have surged in downtown this year. Vitaly Paley's Headwaters fired up inside the Heathman Hotel, Southpark did a fancy revamp, and Trent Pierce's Roe brought prix fixe menus and true fine dining service.
Located inside the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel, King Tide Fish & Shell opened this April with something the others do not have—waterfront views overlooking the Willamette River.
Like its predecessor, Three Degrees, the restaurant's bar and dining room occupy separate areas within the hotel. The bar and its patio are casual, and the main dining room is rather corporate, with big windows between walls à la a convention center. The best seats in the house are on the dining room's elevated patio, which overlooks the bustling Riverplace Marina.
It's too bad you can't reserve a table on the patios, because the view is half the reason to visit.
Manning the broilers is chef Lauro Romero. Born in Mexico, Romero worked his way up to executive chef while helming Three Degrees. Romero serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, but it's the dinner we're focusing on here.
The dinner menu centers on a raw bar and about 20 classic seafood appetizers and entrees, from $19 fish and chips to $30 "Fancy Pants" lobster tortellini. The day's whole grilled fish is filleted tableside for $65 to $95, depending on the market price. Don't expect halibut cheeks or bluefin collars—so far, King Tide is mostly about familiar flavors seen through a new lens.
The clam chowder ($13) and lobster rolls ($28) both made me wonder where my loyalties lie: in the tradition of my New England upbringing or in my appreciation of real innovation? The chowder arrived deconstructed, with five manila clams, cubes of smoked pork belly, boiled purple potatoes and par-cooked red pepper, onions and celery. The waiter poured creamy, thick-as-coastal-fog broth, leaving me to either mix the ingredients together or leave the broth lapping at their shore. I opted for the latter and found the mashup undeniably fun, adding bright vegetables to cut through the bisquelike chowder. But with half the ingredients exposed, the dish cooled quickly.
The lobster rolls moved further from tradition. The brioche bun was black with squid ink, though none of its dyed character affected the fresh-baked aromas. Light and fluffy, it efficiently held the Maine lobster studded with celery and chervil. The lobster had been chopped, which made it watery, and I missed the large, satisfying chunks of lobster knuckle and tail.
Chowder reappears on the menu in the form of loaded fries ($14)—a heroic comfort food. The chowder adhered nicely to the crispy, potatoey fries, with hints of chervil and cubes of meaty pork belly mixed in. Again, there was a caveat: While the menu promises razor and manila clams, I found only one piece of clam, and the fries overall lacked clam flavor. The dish was delicious, but it would live up to its name by adding more clams.
The crab cakes ($16) were one of the best dishes I tried. They arrived with a brown-butter remoulade and succulent tomato and papaya salad. The papaya is prepared using the nixtamalization method more commonly associated with corn—first marinated in slaked lime, then boiled in a simple syrup. The resulting cubes were semi-translucent and especially juicy, and nearly stole the show from the excellent crab cakes—fingers of nearly 100 percent Dungeness crab flecked with jalapeño wrapped in crispy breading.
Some items on the raw bar also stood out: the tender chilled prawns with a tangy-sweet house tartar sauce with a horseradish kick ($16); rockfish ceviche ($12) topped with spicy slivers of tortilla tempered by cooling cucumber; and smoked mussels ($8) with punchy chorizo aioli. Raw bar towers run $48 to $84 for one to six people, but with poor shucking marring my oysters, it's better to order a la carte.
The only dish I tried from the "Fancy Pants" menu was local rockfish ($27), a mammoth plate with potato puree, artichoke hearts and blistered cherry tomatoes. The rockfish came perfectly cooked and topped with a cheerful green olive tapenade that reminded me of Vera Cruz seafood preparations. The fish's mild-flavored but meaty flesh was medium-rare—firm but still moist—the skin side pan-seared crispy.
King Tide's greatest weakness was its service, which was profuse with staid dining clichés, perhaps due in part to the older clientele populating the dining room: "We're fully committed to finding you a table" and "You'll be taken care of." The waiters were knowledgeable, but a little personality wouldn't hurt. The more egregious issue was the waitstaff disappearing at inopportune times throughout my meals.
Nearly every dish I ordered at King Tide had a flaw that detracted from its strengthS. But frankly, just having a table with a view would forgive a lot. I ended the night with a nighttime stroll along the river, just outside the door.