a night at portfolio
the wind was howling as we hustled, chins deep in collars, toward the waterfront and dinner. my dining partners (a friend who is a part of the art institute’s culinary program and another who is a local restaurant owner) and i were asked to sign in before proceeding down classroom filled halls. i have no idea how i would have found the restaurant had i not been with a student. before i start with the pessimism, let me just say that a lot of the food was quite enjoyable.
the pork and duck rillette was rich and satisfying, the accompanying pickled onions complex and somewhat spicy. the warm bistro salad consisted of a well-fried egg on healthy looking greens and was given a nice depth by the bacon and vinaigrette.
moules, of the moules frites, were enormous and flavorful (though i don’t know who has shoe strings that look quite like those frites did), and the potato cake with the short ribs was just crispy and salty enough. my personal favorite was the oven roasted organic half game hen, tender enough so it didn’t just remind you of a small chicken. the caramelized onion crepe beneath it was a nice textural compliment, the seared apples the right amount of sweet, and the swiss chard a lovely contrasting color.
most of the bread was undercooked and we didn’t eat much of the desserts. papaya ice cream with a strange red sauce had been in the freezer too long, creme brulee lacked it’s caramelized top, and the pastry of the goat cheese tartlet (which was so close to being lovely!) with figs was raw in the middle.
and the service. oh, the service. did we feel welcomed? like our server wanted us to be there? oh, no. had he ever waited a table before this evening? i can’t possibly imagine it to be so (and, according to the art-institutee in our group, it was probably his first night). ok, so everyone has a first night, but i find it hard to believe that this man had ever been to a restaurant even as a customer.
i sat down to eight pieces of preset silverware, and, after ordering appetizers, was given (or haphazardly tossed) two more. after the bill was paid, six still remained. with his nose in a note-covered menu, our server read us the specials, finishing descriptions of dishes with “…and things like that”. wine service was non existent; bottles were flashed at us with a mumble rather than presented, and we weren’t offered tastes of new bottles.
be all that as it may, my issue wasn’t the ghastly service. i went to portfolio knowing it was a school, run by people who weren’t yet professionals, and who wouldn’t be charging prices as if they were. the issue was that, as these students made egregious mistakes, there was no one there to tell them they were doing so. i have no doubt that the next table to be blessed with our same server was also privileged enough to witness him gripping the wine bottle by the neck as he poured to-the-brim pours.
two vaguely darkened spots were the only indication that our lavender creme brulee (otherwise quite tasty) had seen a flame of any sort. wielding a torch over a tiny dessert for the first time can absolutely be intimidating. was there no instructor there, however, to check out our desserts before they left the kitchen, to say, “that’s not how creme brulee is supposed to look”?
if that student bruleer ever finds themselves bruleeing at a real restaurant, they’re going to wish someone had pointed out their un-bruleed brulees at portfolio so they didn’t have to get ripped a new one by the real chef.
the 3-course prix fix was $19. sounds reasonable till you consider that the three of us needed two bottles from their all washington (and fairly affordable) list to prevent us from criticizing anything too loudly. yes, that much food and drink for under $40 is a steal. the fact that i didn’t finish all of my overly oaky wine wasn’t portfolio’s fault. the fact that i was still hungry, due to unfinished dishes, was.
portfolio has so much – a beautiful view, an eager staff of hundreds who pay tens of thousands of dollars a quarter to work there, and a community looking for both value and a way to support chefs-to-be. sitting in those bright lights and that super 8 lobby chair, i couldn’t help but imagine what a cool place it could be.
to have a dirt-cheap restaurant (the students would be making food anyway, and, i’m told, it generally just gets sent home with them) where brand new students are allowed to play all of the restaurant roles. every step of the way, however, someone would be there to tell them “so joe, you should probably read through the menu before you start your shift tonight”.