We don't stop thinking about a restaurant review after it goes to press. And so for the third time, we devote our end-of-year food section to revisiting the spots that left us wondering—places that got mixed or even bad reviews that we thought had a chance of getting much better.
2448 E Burnside St., 503-894-8082, tuskpdx.com. 5 pm-midnight Monday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday, 10 am-2 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Reviewed: Oct. 12
Related: WW's Tusk Review
The pitch: Ava Gene's chef Joshua McFadden's much-hyped Mediterranean spot tapped chefs Sam Smith and Wesley Johnson, who'd cooked with Michael Solomonov at his modern Israeli hot spot Zahav in Philadelphia. Solomonov is famous for his exuberantly flavored veggies, and that's the bulk of the opening menu at this uber-stylish spot on East Burnside.
The problem: Tusk has been wildly popular since opening in August, but not with globetrotting WW contributor Michael C. Zusman, who compared it unfavorably to Zahav. "If Zahav is a boisterous playground of vegetarian tastes and textures, Tusk has gone straight back to study hall. Where Zahav is worthy of unstinting praise for offering an innovative take on an ancient cuisine, Tusk is superficial modernity, food built to look pretty on Instagram.
Now: Tusk is still wildly popular, still running two-hour-plus waits on Tuesday nights. We got a walk-in table only by braving a blizzard. Tusk still has plenty of flaws, but it also has a few standouts. The best bit of all was a salad called pomelo, made with cara cara oranges spiked with fish sauce, jalapeño and coriander—a mostly veggie ceviche. With a drizzle of the house chili oil, the seasonal hummus with cumin and super-savory heirloom beans called Dutch Bullet was wonderful. The menu now has a small selection of meaty mains, including a very nice braised pork shoulder with apples and hazelnuts.
210 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 971-339-3693, revelrypdx.com. 5 pm-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 5 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday.
Reviewed: Sept. 28
Related: WW's Revelry Review
The pitch: Seattle's James Beard-nominated team of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi becomes the first high-profile restaurateurs to put a spinoff in Portland. This hip Korean-fusion spot shares walls with an outdoor store and has sparse concrete-wall decor and a stack of boom boxes.
The problem: A very early visit, with Yang still in the kitchen, included rice cakes and peanut brittle-accented Korean fried chicken that were a late-night school in texture and chili-spiced complexity—crisp, light, hearty and ethereal in turn—but both lost some of their deftness in other visits, relying more on oil and sweetness.
Now: The chicken is heavier, oilier and syrupier than on any previous visit; the transcendent and unlikely balance we first found has dulled to heavy comfort food. The sliced, fried Korean rice cakes also were snapless, and that delightful P.F. Chang's sizzling-beef texture on the meat has been dropped, leaving beef lumps. Probably the best dish this time around was a dan dan noodle bowl enlivened by pickled vegs. It's now a pleasant bar with snacks, but we'd have a hard time waiting in the rain-slicked, huddled line of people we found on an early Monday.
4336 SE Woodstock Blvd., 503-206-5495, doublemountainbrewery.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Reviewed: Aug. 24
Related: WW's Double Mountain Review
The pitch: A Hood River brewery famed for its New Haven-style pizzas opens a pub in the underserved Woodstock neighborhood.
The problem: We went early—probably earlier than we should have—and found that the pies coming out of a new type of oven weren't up to Double Mountain's own standards. On one visit, we found the crust overcharred, infused with an acrid, blackened flavor, and topped with overly dry cheese applied inconsistently between pies. That visit also found salads sopped in way too much dressing and a cookie served at refrigerator temperature for dessert.
Now: Double Mountain fixed everything. Our lunch pies in mid-November were as good as in Hood River, with a snappy crust and the right proportions of sauce, cheese and toppings. They now heat the cookies.
2218 NE Broadway St., 503-477-9521, chesapdx.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Reviewed: May 11
Related: WW's Chesa Review
The pitch: A paella-focused spot with a high-temp flash-smoker Josper grill from José Chesa, the Spanish chef with Michelin-kitchen background who makes transcendent bites and bravas at the westside's Ataula.
The problem: Alongside stellar ribs and a delicious cocktail menu with sterling vermouth preparando and scratch quinine-sulfate tonic from barkeep Tony Gurdian, the paellas were inconsistent: "We've had four different paella pans in three visits, and received four different results. On that wonderfully spiced Chesa, the paella pan came charred on one side—with bellota ham abused into dryness—and shiny-clean on the other. But nowhere in the middle did it attain that beautiful quality of just-so pan-cooked rice called socarrat—the deeply satisfying caramelized, crackly crispness at the pan's edge also familiar from Korean bibimbap."
Now: Chesa is like a restaurant in photo negative. The paella on our most recent visit—we went for the cheapest meat option, a $20 Mar i Montaña with shrimp and oxtail—attained exquisite caramelization on the top, bottom and sides with no burn except above the rice, with a beautiful balance of salt and fat amid the warm flavors of sofrito. It was perfect. But that $11 gin and tonic, since the departure of Gurdian (now at Interurban), should no longer cost $11: It offered upfront acidity without the previous tonic's brightness and depth. The vermouth menu has also suffered, as has the seasonal preparando.
1305 NW 23rd Ave., 971-302-6368, chkchk.com. 11 am-9 pm daily.
Reviewed: April 20
Related: WW's ChkChk Review
The pitch: ChkChk aims to "reclaim the chicken sandwich from a fast-food industry riddled with questionable sourcing and dominated by national chains who champion regressive social agendas."
The problem: "When it comes to fried-chicken sandwiches, ChkChk can't match Chick-fil-A… Their breasts aren't so big and juicy, the breading is too thick in some places and too thin in others. The shell lacks the buttery warmth."
Now: ChkChk is still very committed to intersectional justice—a December visit found a poster with the names of black victims of killer cops on the wall. Unfortunately, the sandwiches have gone downhill. The breasts are now thinner at dinner.
727 SE Washington St., 503-954-1987, taquerianueve.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday.
Reviewed: Aug. 17
The pitch: T9 came back from the dead in 2014, and it's been one of our favorite spots since—until an ill-fated visit as part of an epic bougie taco crawl.
The problem: "This is a place whose tacos we have loved in the past, one of those spots whose meat-filled, handmade corn-tortilla tacos can make an 'upgrade' on street food seem like a great idea rather than a condescending fiction… But on this visit, that $3 wild boar carnitas taco was less flat-top seared into crispness than dried into jerky, the 'vegetal' veggie taco was an undersalted scattering of greens, and the fatty brisket was both overdone and underseasoned."
Now: Everyone has off days, apparently. Our December visit found T9 back in top form, with bright salsas and soul-warming corn tortillas topped with achingly tender carnitas. We found the batch of margaritas inconsistent in August, but the glass this time was the finest amalgamation of lime and tequila we've had in recent memory.
126 SW 2nd Ave. (Pine Street Market), 1128 SW Alder St., 503-987-1500, pollobravopdx.com. Pine Street: 9 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 9 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday. Alder: 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Reviewed: June 1
The pitch: A Spanish-inflected spit-roasted chicken spot from John Gorham, the guy behind Toro Bravo.
The problem: The menu was unwieldy, cocktails were weird, and the chicken had serious troubles, with skin "oversalted to the point that it tasted like grocery-store ham."
Now: The chicken is hearty and tender and juicy—with the option of dipping in still more jus—while a radicchio side salad was solid and cocktails were refreshing and much improved. But Gorham announced Dec. 23 he'll be selling Pollo Bravo to its chef, Josh Scofield, and shuffling his Israeli-focused Shalom Y'all into Pollo's Southwest Alder Street space. The Pine Street location of Shalom will become BYH ("Bless Your Heart") burgers, an "upper-echelon" take on Five Guys.