Two weeks ago, before I was sucked into the maw of TBA, I attended a media dinner at H50, the new restaurant at Hotel Fifty. Now, it's quite possible that if I continue to write posts chronicling my media dinner experiences, I'll most likely be blacklisted from the roll call of every PR agent in town. But let's be frank: any press is good press. Besides, I have become acutely aware of the media dinner game. Those who wield the power of the press are wined, dined, and generally treated like VIP's for one evening under the auspices of a friendly, getting-to-know-you-and-show-you-what-we-got-going-on type event. Somehow, I have a feeling that this is meant to play to the inherent vanity of the writer. And maybe, if all goes as planned, the restaurant just might get under said writers skin, creating a sub-conscious bias should the place be reviewed in the future. There is so much glad handing and free flowing booze at these events it would be impossible for me to think this is not the case. Then again, by nature, I'm suspicious of anyone who acts like my friend before they even smell my breath.
Anyway, H50 is a nice enough place, though it does feel a bit too self-consciously swanky. The decor is clean, modern, and... sparkly. I arrived early-ish at the media event, ordered a cocktail, and wandered around for a bit. I noted the nifty fireplace, the fainting couch zone, and the red chain-mail curtains. I also noted a table shaped like the upper half of a human head (with the cranial arch flattened to hold a martini, natch). I recognized this table from somewhere else, but could not quite place it... Ah yes, it was from the Z Gallery. If you're unfamiliar with the Z Gallery, you obviously haven't spent enough time at Bridgeport Village. Think Pier 1 with more flash and less class. They specialize in all things mirrored. Granted they do have some cool shit, and I am guilty of coveting that head table myself. But I had the sense that once it left the confines of Z Gallery and entered my home, I would immediately regret the purchase. Much like I regretted seeing it at H50.
After a bit of schmoozing, we were hustled into the dining room to start our eight course tasting menu (with wine pairings). My photographer friend and I were placed at a table in the corner with a PR rep and two young women I did not recognize. We were so far removed from the rest of the group it felt like sitting at the kids' table during Thanksgiving dinner.
I introduced myself to my dinner companions, and one of the young women introduced herself as an editor from a prominent monthly magazine. No, the other one... The free one.
"The Mercury did an interesting story about us a couple of weeks ago," she said with a sly grin. Oh shit, what had we said? Then I remembered, Amy had written a story about freelancers struggling to get paid from this particular publication. Awk-ward. But after a few polite words back and forth we became fast, friendly acquaintances. Turns out that we ran in some of the same circles.
Her friend, who was seated beside me, is a PR person for a prominent theater in town. We immediately began talking about the cocktails. She was drinking what I believe she referred to as a "gayhatten," (though I'm probably misremembering) due to the fact that it was a fruity, funny colored take on the classic Manhattan.
Which brings up the issue of H50's drink menu. Most of the cocktails were kind of odd and fruity. I don't think any of them had less than three ingredients. The sazerac I ordered was made with brandy (historically the original spirit used in the cocktail), but I was a bit confused as to why they'd use both absinthe and Lillet in the same drink. Don't get me wrong, they were absolutely drinkable, but not something I would order more than once.
The free booze was slowly loosening up our table. We started seriously enough, talking about the finer points of the bread spread options, but once the food began arriving, we lost the will to be serious about anything other than having a good time. I have to give props to the young PR person seated with us. She was the picture of calm and reason while the rest of us talked about sex, drugs, and various other taboo dinner subjects. She barely flinched when I noted tones of circus peanut in one of our wine selections.
In terms of cuisine, H50 is all about small food and enormous plates. There are plenty of "foams" and "airs" to go around. In fact, at times the food seems positively pneumatic. I'm not sure how I would feel about the bill after a meal at H50. I might consider the portion size disproportionate to the price tag. But then again, I'm not H50's likely clientele. The chef mentioned that he was planning to bring molecular gastronomy to Portland, but he seemed reluctant to use that phrase. It also sounded as if he felt Portlanders weren't ready for such high-minded fare.
I did my best to be a good food critic during dinner, but I had breakdown. When I excused myself to go to the restroom, I was chagrined to discover that the urinal looked exactly like the bowl I'd just eaten my pasta from. Hilarious and weird. I could barely contain myself. When I got back to the table, I announced this impolite revelation to my dining companions. If we weren't close to tears with laughter, I'm sure we would've experienced physical pain from the eye daggers shot at us from neighboring tables. Again, I will mention the grace of our PR handler, though I'm sure by that time, she had completely given up on all of us.
All in all, I had a great time at H50, but not necessarily for the reasons they wanted me to have a good time.
Look for a full review in Last Supper sometime soon.