Alright, for some inexplicable reason, the food blogging community in Portland is not very active. Okay, let me rephrase that. Compared to Vancouver, there is no other place that has a more active food blogging community. Hence, everywhere else pales in comparison. That is probably why I get media releases for gastronomical happenings in the largest city in Oregon (although I am in Vancouver). I usually ignore them and just delete. Well, what am I to do about them anyways? I just can't get and head over to Portland on a whim to eat (well, technically I could). So when I got an invite to H5O Bistro & Bar from Sarah for a tasting of their new Spring menu, I simply ignored it. It wasn't until Sarah followed up with me that I actually took a look at it. Well, it was smack dab during Spring Break and I was planning on heading to Seattle already... When I mentioned that to Sarah, she convinced me to drive another 3 hours down the I-5. Well, it wasn't that simple really. She sealed the deal when she offered a 2-night stay at Hotel Fifty. You see, H5O is located in the hotel. Fine. That was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I dragged the kids and wife on a 3 hour detour to Portland. Would this be considered a working vacation?
When I looked the place up on the internet, it looked vaguely familiar for some reason. When we pulled up, I realized why. We had stayed at this hotel before when it used to be Four Points by Sheraton. Well, let me say this. The renovations are substantial and the place looks swank compared to what it was before. Previously, the restaurant in the hotel was just there "because". You know those types of hotel restaurants that only exist because they need one on-site. Thus, you could only imagine the food quality... Well, I guess this tasting would determine if the changes were beyond the decor. Now for those haters who would like to point out that the meal is free as with the hotel room, let me make one statement. If you read this blog, you know I'm fair and will speak my mind no matter if the meal costs me $0 or $500. I've personally spent over $25,000 of my own money on food. Much like anything else, I'm sure people can make their own judgment about things, so there is no need to hate on freebies. After all, most "official" media never pay for their food. Hence, do we suddenly consider people like Anthony Bourdain irrelevant because they get comped eats? I'm jus sayin'. I digress.
So back to the tasting... We started with an Amuse Bouche which was a Avocado Gazpacho that was accented with orange & grapefruit segments, sea salt and poppy seeds. It was very refreshing with a nice tang and a hit of salt. Next up was the Asparagus & Garlic which was comprised of grilled green and white asparagus tips, roasted garlic espuma, tonic #5, Parmesan and 20-year old sherry vinegar. Such a simple ingredient; but what a punch of flavour. First of all, the smell was intoxicating. The char on the asparagus gave a smoky flavour while at the same time being crisp. There was a little of everything in this dish including creamy, tart, savoury, sweet and umaminess. Very delicious.
We were presented next with a plate of Sweet Potato Ravioli accented by baby zucchini, cherry tomato, rosemary, sage and beurre fondue. Of course the flavour profile of this dish would lean towards sweet due to the sweet potato. The herbs somewhat balanced it out; but for me, I would've preferred some more savouriness. Again, I do realize this is not the intention of the dish, it's just my personal preference. Otherwise, it was a nicely executed ravioli. After this, the St. Pierre Fish arrived
(also known as a John Dory). Yes, the same one from Finding Nemo. We were eating Dory!!! So Dory was wonderfully seared and served with a side of clownfish... Wait. No it was served with a roasted lemon emulsion, radish, chive, lemon supreme's and lemon mint. The first thing I noticed was the appetizing fish oil smell activated by the sear. The fish itself was flaky and sweet while there was a contrasting crunch from the radish. However, for me, I felt there was too much acid on the plate. I suppose that could be alleviated by not eating it.
After we finished up Dory, we were presented with the Roasted Chesapeake Bay Bass accompanied by a carrot and white balsamic crema, watercress and chamomile tea & honey foam. For me, the thing that did it for me was the crispy skin. With a nice textural contrast to the buttery fish, it was a party in my mouth (especially with the hit of sea salt on top). Unlike some other foams, I could really taste the chamomile tea in this one. It was nice that nothing on the plate interfered with the delicious fish. Sauced tableside, the Muscovy Duck Breast was fantastic. It was served with house-made gnocchi, fennel pollen, tomato and English peas. As for the duck itself, it was cooked perfectly being tender with crispy skin. There was confit thigh meat underneath as well. However, the entire dish as a whole was too salty. The thigh meat itself was salty as with the demi-glace. Add some sea salt and you get the idea. With that said, the English peas helped balance the saltiness to a degree.
For our last savoury dish, it would be the largest and probably the best. The Beef Cheek Wellington was completely stuffed with shredded braised beef cheeks and mushroom duxelles. It rested on mashed potato with heirloom carrots. Normally, this dish would find a rare piece of beef tenderloin in the middle. However, I don't mind the substitution of beef cheek because it was fantastic. It was soft, gelatinous and very flavourful from the red wine, mushrooms and shallots. Furthermore, there was a pronounced meat flavour that was not salty. I also liked that the puff pastry was thin and flaky, which ultimately let the beef cheek take centre stage.
For dessert, we had the H5O "Candy Bar" served with a Thai Iced Russian. Consisting of crispy chocolate, chocolate brownie, chocolate ganache and raspberry mousse, this was like a chocolate millefeuille of sorts. Despite the appearance of sugar overload, it was only semi-sweet. It was definitely rich; but was nicely balanced by the mousse and the candied pistachios. The accompanying cocktail was very light and hence worked with the rich dessert. As I have said again and again, it appears that hotel restaurants are stepping up their game to compete with other fine-dining establishments. Executive Nicholas Yates has been given free-reign to do his food and it shows. This is certainly not your typical boring hotel food.
- Expert execution
- A combination of classics with some risk-taking
- Not shy on the flavours
- A tad over-aggressive with the sea salt at times