I RECENTLY SAW this Portland post in my feed: "Is there anyone who isn't doing fried chicken?"
It's true, there seems to be a glut of deep-fried poultry winging its way through new restaurant openings as of late. The Waiting Room, located in a historic house with a fantastic patio just off NW 23rd, is no exception.
The restaurant promises three things, all of which seem to be experiencing a heyday on menus across the city: fried chicken, oysters on the half shell, and sparkling wines and champagne. The Waiting Room does them well.
Should you wish to make a meal of these three items, you will leave satisfied and without sticker shock. They're all you need, really. Yet it's still a disappointment that the rest of the menu is muddied with Pacific Northwest-inspired small plates that almost uniformly stray to over-sweet sauces and textural imbalances. The Waiting Room's ambitions are a work in progress.
Let's start with the good. When I hear Louisiana-style fried chicken, my Yankee mind goes straight to Popeyes (also yummy). The Waiting Room's version isn't too different, with a crispy breading that's more refined and thinner than its fast-food cousin. The chicken is juicy, and a half bird ($15) is plenty for three people. It's accompanied by a grilled lemon, house-made hot sauce (use the vinegary "not so hot" sauce; ignore the green, unpalatably bitter "hot" sauce), and Bee Local honey. A stack of five cornmeal hushpuppies with some righteous pimento cheese ($8) pair perfectly on the side.
Despite chefs Thomas Dunklin and Kyle Rourke naming their venture after a Fugazi song, the restaurant doesn't give off a hardcore vibe (besides the punk thrashers playing in the background). Rather, there are custom-made tables, silverware is wrapped in linens and tied with a small jute string, and handmade plates are from local LoneSomeVille Pottery. The patio is a gem—set back from NW Kearney and surrounded by greenery.
There are the Nevor oysters from Netarts Bay, which the two big bearded chefs treat with enough care to highlight the briny delicacy. A "NW style" oyster ($4) is topped with salmon jerky for smokiness, bright pops of orange salmon roe to accent the saltiness, and takes a Japanese turn with small flecks of nori and togarashi spice. The Starvation Alley ($4)—a raw oyster topped with cranberry juice, gin, candied garlic, and bacon fat—edges on weird, but remains in interesting territory.
The Pelican's Pick-Me-Up ($10) cocktail was a citrusy pre-dinner sip, with Tanqueray gin, Aperol, grapefruit, and lime. There's all manner of bubbly by the glass, but just commit to a $27 bottle of Dolce Vita prosecco, which floated the oysters on our tongues and later cut through the rich fried chicken.
Naming the restaurant the Waiting Room makes it too easy to make a joke about wait times and inconsistent service. On a recent visit, toes tapped all around as the overwhelmed team struggled to fill to-go orders and juggle a nearly full house. Three of our orders were forgotten and the whole meal lasted two and a half hours—however, they comped us one of the forgotten dishes and a dessert. These kinks happen.
The over-sweet small plates were the real problem, like the $15 scoop of quinoa topped with fresh Dungeness crab. The shredded leg meat clashed with the al dente grains, and was further marred by a green tomato and wasabi cocktail sauce with undetectable wasabi and way too much sugar. The same went for a plate of crispy pork "wings" ($13), which are as real as nuggets are on chickens. They're simply short ribs cut into small pieces, leaving diners to nibble the meat off gelatinous bones and again contend with a one-note sugary mustard-cider glaze.
The Waiting Room is remodeling the upstairs to create a crudo and oyster bar, upstairs balcony seating, and a private dining room. In a part of town with shockingly few good, affordable meals, I'm hoping the wait for this restaurant to fully mature isn't too much longer.
Tues-Sat 5-10 pm, Sun 10 am-2 pm. Happy hour: Tues-Fri 4-6 pm. Reservations accepted and required for parties of six or more. Leave your vegan friend at home.