Since Davenport has frequently popped up as a must try restaurant in multiple drinking and dining guides, I felt it was time for us to check it out. I am an eastside girl so I like Davenport’s location on east Burnside. The exterior facade is decidedly sparse and simple in a deep grey with an elegantly industrial vibe. As you enter the restaurant, there are elements of wood, concrete, with splashes of browns and grey. But this is no Paul Bunyan shack. Rather the decor is handsome, well edited and deceivingly simple. Instead of feeling potentially cold and lacking personality, the atmosphere is one of sophisticated comfort. You can dress up or dress down here and look appropriate. We are informed by our server that this is a small plate menu. More about that later. The menu choices are nicely varied with simple and interesting ingredients. I appreciate the vegetarian and fish items, in addition to meat centered dishes.
I wish the cocktail menu was as interesting and varied as the food menu. While Davenport has been noted for its wine selections, the cocktail list is wanting. In a city like Portland, I have been spoiled by the creativity and inventiveness of the cocktail scene here. I can pour myself a nice glass of wine on my own at home. When I go out, I want to be intrigued and blown away by a complex potion of interestingly and pleasant flavors. I enjoy the surprise of a well prepared cocktail. Davenport offers a small but classic cocktail selection. I had a very good classic martini that was reasonably priced at $10.
My first plate was panissa with seville orange aioli ($8). Since I had never tasted panissa before, this was a real treat. For those unfamiliar with panissa, I would describe it like a polenta cake only it is made with chickpea flour. The orange aioli was a fresh take on the standard aioli. My next dish was the grilled wild shrimp($18). It was served with radicchio, fennel, and purgatio beans (which taste a lot like navy beans). This was some of the most succulent and juicy shrimp that I have ever tasted. The accompanying bean dish was equally delicious, but I am uncertain they went well together as a dish.
Dessert options were limited to a cheese plate or meyer lemon ice cream. Well, duh, of course we selected the ice cream. After a savory meal, there is nothing more pleasant than the combo of ice cream and lemonYum!
Service is attentive here without being in your face. However, with the small plate dining style, there can be uneven lulls between dishes.
After dinner we were off to one of our favorite haunts, the Doug Fir Lounge. I am glad we arrived early and snagged a few of the limited seats at the Fir. Otherwise, it can be a tiring night of standing if you’re over 50 years of age. We have been longtime fans of Emily Wells. Her beautiful melancholy wail of a voice continues to move me and I have loved watching her evolve as a musician. Tonight she has, again, taken her music to another level. After years of being a one woman band, performing as her own accompanist, playing violin, drum, and synthesizers, she is finally letting go of some of her musical control and allowing others to enter. Tonight she was joined onstage by four other strings, freeing her to further develop her musical performance and potentiate the impact of her her musical message.
Tonight I realized that I have a lot of ambivalence regarding the current fashion of small plate dining. I can see the appeal of this culinary trend: The sampling of a variety of menu items with friends and family enhances the intimacy of the dining experience. Many people prefer the sampling of dishes that are smaller and of a greater variety to the standard three course meal.
But here’s my beef (no pun intended). Despite the Servers’ instructions that 34 small plates is about equivalent to a standard three course meal, I have found small plate portions to be generally larger than the portions of an entree and side dishes or appetizers. And the small portions frequently vary depending upon what one orders. For example, I have ordered small plate salads that could feed a family of four, followed by a scallop small plate with only two scallops. Although I found myself filling up on the salad so the dinky serving of scallops ended up not mattering, it is really hard to plan a small plate meal. I often feel in less control of how much I am eating when taking bites of food here and there and it is very easy to lose track of how much one is really eating. At least with a traditional meal, I can see at once how much I am being served and decide for myself how much I can eat from each dish or side dishes.
My older son, who like his mother, is not particularly sold on small plate dining, pointed out that the waiting between plates leaves him ravenous, since you only get to sample one or two bites when sharing with a group of friends and the wait time between small plate servings can be unreliable. My sons response to small plates is, “Just give me me a full meal, dammit, I’m hungry!” I can see this being a particular problem for young adult males. I have two young adult male sons who can consume in one day, the amount of food their parents consume in one month! It is also a problem if one is a vegetarian and your dining companions are carnivores. I recently shared a small plate meal with friends during a trip to Los Angeles. Everyone picked different plates so we could experience a variety of dishes. Since I am not a carnivore, I ordered the only vegetarian dish. Everyone else ordered a different meat plate. Like everyone else, I shared my small plate. Unfortunately, two bites of a pasta dish does not make a meal. It’s not that I have inconsiderate friends. They didn’t know I was vegetarian and I didn’t share that information with them because I wanted then to be able to order whatever they wanted, but sharing small plates does not work well if one is a picky eater, which I admittedly am.
One would think that smaller plates would mean less expense to the consumer, but I’m not convinced this is the case. Depending on the restaurant, if one orders the 34 small plates that servers equate with amount of food of a traditional meal, it can add to be more costly, sometimes much more costly than a traditional meal. I have found Happy Hour bar menus have the most economical and reliably smaller portions, although not the variety that small plates eateries offer.
My biggest issue about small plate dining, however, is the length of time that it takes to receive and consume the multiple plates of a small plate meal. Servers will tell you to the small plates simply comes as the chef gets to it. At Davenport there were patrons who had arrived before us on both sides of our tables that were not close to finishing their meals by the time we left the restaurant. Granted, these patrons had multiple eating companionsthus multiple small plates and I only had my husband. But, honestly, I am not an interesting enough person to spend that long of an evening visiting with my friends. Nor do I really want to spend that length of time eating; I want to move on and get other stuff done. And If you have a theater or concert performance, good luck getting there on time. Also, at my advancing age, I get tired after such a long meal and I just want to go home and go to bed! Personally, I really do prefer the structure of the appetizer, entree, dessert menu; the timing of the dining experience and the portion sizes seem more reliable and reasonable. But for people who lavish in deep and meaningful conversation, small plates are probably right for you. I come from a large farm family where my mother used to say, “Shut up and eat!” That is pretty much what I do at mealtime.
But Mom also said, “to each his own” so I am glad people have choices. There are so many wonderful dining experiences to choose from in Portland. I think, however, we also need to think about the culinary choices we are making and how those choices impact the dining experience and one’s lifestyle.
Yippee and Skippie. Emily Wells has a new CD out and that means a tour. There are few artists I enjoy as much and she was back in town to support her new album.
This may be the 6th or 7th time I have seen her perform over the years and each time she is better than the last. As I have mentioned, there is a difference between being a performer and a musician, and she is now both.
Usually she has a one woman show, playing and recording loops on a variety of instruments, slowing building complex backgrounds for her singing. This time for part the show she was joined by a keyboarder and a string quintet for backup musicians, allowing her to sing undistracted by the space shuttle control panel she normally manipulates, improving the intimacy of the show.
I really hope she gets a full band someday; her music has, at some level, grown beyond the one woman show.
The other aspect of her shows that always makes it enjoyable is arranges many her songs differently for each show, so it is more than just a straight up live rendition of the studio versions. There is great variety in how she plays what she semi-ironically refers to as her hits and different interpretations of the standards always improve the shot. And for 20 bucks a ticket. The shows at the Doug Fir remain the best bargains in town
Before the show we had dinner at Davenport. I do not have the same issue with small plates as Kerry. I try to take experiences for what they are, not what I want them to be. Davenport is small plates and that works for me. The make a mean Manhattan and an awesome Old Fashioned, and after a good cocktail, who cares about the size of the plate?
The food was delicious and simple, two characteristics that can be difficult to combine. Often simple is adequate and you can make complex food that can be remarkable, but the ability to combine a few ingredients and make them extraordinary is rare. Davenport does that.
My father was a cardiologist and I grew up at the height of the dietary cholesterol is evil phase of medicine. Two eggs a week, no bacon, no butter, only skim milk. Cholesterol is a testosterone precursor, so rather than causing atherosclerosis, I will the cholesterol down the testosterone pathway. Wish me luck with that delusion. But I love eggs, especially deviled eggs, so that was my starter: they were made with crab, coconut, chili and ginger, followed by a pork schnitzel, perfectly done, followed by Meyer Lemon ice cream for dessert.
The service, as is always the case in Portland, was friendly and efficient. The most difficult part of eating out as I get older is noise and small print in dimly lit rooms. My Kindle has me spoiled, always bright and the print is big. The menu was fine, but the restaurant was full, and a spare, almost warehouse like environment. Nothing to muffle the conversations. I gave a good chunk of my hearing to Led Zeppelin back in college and many of the restaurants excel at being loud echo chambers. Davenport is the loud.
But delicious. So if you don’t mind the small plate approach to dining, give it a try