We don't typically do a formal review of a new restaurant until it's been up and running for a few months, and as one of the Mercury's most dietarily persnickety staff members, I don't typically do food reviews at all. But for some reason this past weekend I ended up trying some of the newest spots in town, and so some of my observations may disappear as these places work out their kinks. Still, first impressions:
Firstly, Corazón: The much-buzzed about new Mexican restaurant from Grüner chef and owner Chris Israel. Located just down the street from his excellent German restaurant, at the corner of SW 12th and Washington (the former Pinot space), the decor is splashy, modern, and pleasant, with pretty multicolored tile tabletops and tree-stump stools on the "cantina" side, which was where we had hoped there would be a happy hour. No such luck, but we decided to give it a whirl anyway, lured by the $3 tacos del día and $6 margaritas.
I started out with a $3 shot of nice blanco and an oyster shooter, which came with a sliver of pickled jalapeño to... make it seem Mexican I guess. Both were nice little appetizers, and I felt proud of myself for cherry-picking such cost-effective prizes off a menu that really runs the gamut of price points (even though they only serve a cantina-specific menu, I took a look at the dinner menu as well. It looks delicious, though the fish dish I would have wanted to order was $28. You could easily get out of there for less, though, and they are threatening to start lunch service, which I assume will offer more modest pricing.). Between the five people in our party, all taco styles were consumed (including shrimp tacos, a menu item I wish I saw more often around town), but the consensus was that Robo Taco's are still the ones to beat.
I upped my drink order for round two—another shot of tequila that came with a hibiscus-orange juice back. The small vial of this magical elixir was the most impressive thing out of the entire experience. Spiced up (I'm guessing with habañero), I wished I had a pint glass of the fruity-spicy mix, and next time I'm in I'll for sure try to score a cocktail in which it features prominently. I also nutted up and—even though I suspected it was a trap—ordered the caesar salad, which at $11 is one of the pricier things on the cantina menu. Now I've had caesar salads that are passably worth $11, and they are abundant things, with remarkable, artfully shaven artisanal cheese, whole fillets of sardines, zingy, garlicky, decadent dressing, croutons whose previous life as a freshly baked baguette is only thinly disguised, and maybe some kind of wild surprise like a couple of cherry tomatoes or something. At that price the option of a salmon topper would not be remiss.
Needless to say, ordering that salad was the stupidest thing I did all weekend, including during Saturday's epic girls' night out, which is saying quite a lot. For $11 I purchased five (maybe six?) leaves of romaine (which were, at least, very crisp and fresh) over which was strewn modest shreddings of parmesan that looked and tasted exactly like those pre-shredded varieties that come in plastic tubs and are located next to semi-instant packages of tortellini at the grocery store. The dressing was okay, I think, but so thinly applied that it was nearly imperceptible, and the whole thing was crowned by three—count 'em—three croutons. I am a sucker. But seriously, Corazón, if you are reading this: Either make that a $6 item or make it more substantial. As it stands it's just angering.
Then on Saturday I went out to brunch at the former Il Piatto, which is no longer Italian; despite the fact that ownership hasn't changed it is now a German restaurant called the Slide Inn, and Saturday was their very first day of brunch service.
The newness is why we chose this particular destination, because who has the time to spend and hour or more in line for brunch? I like to think I don't (anymore), which is why I rarely go out for it. We were right about it not being busy, and we slid right into seating upon arrival. Out of the three of us, the wisest ordering choice went to the friend who dove right into the Germanic offerings and went with the Speck pfannkuchen, an Austrian-style pancake stuffed with a generous quantity of house-cured bacon and came with a charming little trio of syrups, including ginger, maple, and raspberry. I don't eat the land animals, but our third companion concurred with the wisdom of her choice, and they also offer sweet variations that are vegetarian.
Both myself and my fiancé went for more typical Portland brunch fare. I am that girl, and so I ordered the (Ota) tofu hash, which is often a token item, though here it was jazzed up with curry, mushroom, spinach, swiss chard, carrots, and onions, all minced to a larb-like consistency. I was a bit surprised when the plate showed up with nothing but the mid-sized pile of hash on it, without the usual accompaniment of potatoes and toast, but at $8 I wasn't mad about it either. I was glad then that I'd also ordered a side of their house-pickled vegetables, a tidy little cup of big chunks of beet and carrots that was pleasant enough, and without which I would have still been hungry, while Miss $10 Stuffed Pancake couldn't finish her meal even after gifting a sizable chunk of it across the table.
My fiance got the only real dud, after going with a classic Eggs Benedict. While he admitted it tasted "fine," the hollandaise was an off-puttingly bright yellow and slightly curdled rather than delicate, pale, and silky. He ate it, but claimed it ruined his appetite for the rest of the day. That said, if they get a few details ironed out this has the potential to be one of your new "secret" brunch spots (there's probably not enough hype around it to cause a stampede), and it goes out of its way to cater to a wide spectrum of dietary special needs, from vegan and gluten free to pork addicted. Next time I might try the in-house sausages, of which there is a vegan/GF option as well as turkey and traditional pork varieties.
I think this weekend I'll go to the grocery store and stay home pinching pennies.