I TRY TO KEEP an open mind. I'm well aware that every column I file is my subjective take, but I try not to lean too heavily on my personal preferences. It's clearly not a fair critique if I dock a bakery for specializing in cake just because I'm partial to pie. Rarely do I crave chicken-fried steak, but I know it can be done well and many people adore it.
But occasionally a restaurant is just bad; tiptoeing around it does no one any favors.
Situated a few feet beneath that OfficeMax in the Pearl District, the Pink Rose is a subterranean bunker of bad taste. You enter through an archway bearing a too-close-to-Pinkberry typeface, and emerge into something that could be a dance club at the Las Vegas airport. Look down and you'll see a rose icon emblazoned on the floor; look up and notice that someone painted an Ed Hardy T-shirt on the ceiling.
The only benefit of having zero natural light is that the stupefying color combinations are slightly less apparent. Slightly. Reds and pinks butt up against each other like a hallmark aisle in February, and all the tawdriest textiles are present: velveteen booths, vinyl tabletops, faux-marble polymer siding. The wood-paneled walls are decorated with photo prints of roses and Portland imagery; they're black and white, except for digitally enhanced splashes of pink. There's a fountain-y thing, and withered flower bouquets, and a lighting scheme that changes the color of the wall every few seconds.
The only seats that don't provide front-row access to the Jersey Shore are up on the patio, but you're still looking at either the Safeway across the street or the back-to-school supplies in the OfficeMax window. But even above ground, the garishness is unavoidable. It's hinted at on the cocktail list, it shows up in the food's presentation, and it slaps you across the face at each bite.
My lunchtime "Rose Burger" was laden with fancy accessories—confit pork belly, gruyère, fried onion straws, and dijon aioli, all on a brioche bun. None of it masked the underwhelming, generic beef patty; in fact, the dry, gamey pork only accentuated it. The fries were adequate, and the pickled zucchini and onions that accompanied the burger were actually quite good. At $12, in this town, the quality of Pink Rose's burger is inexcusable. It's also the best thing I ordered.
I saw rave reviews online for the fried green tomatoes, but what came out looked like something from the Trader Joe's freezer section. The tomato, along with its deep-fried batter, was bland. It was topped with a mound of melted mozzarella cheese that was overpowering in quantity and underwhelming in flavor. The pesto either came from a jar or had been made days beforehand. Nothing tasted fresh. If I'd viewed the dish through the lens of bar food, I wouldn't have the same objections, but here it's framed as fine dining.
The beet salad was a good bargain (a $5 half-order was plenty for two of us... though I suspect we were served a full portion), but the flavors were far from balanced. There was too much citrus dressing and the sharp chèvre didn't do the salad any favors. The combination seemed to lack any thought.
The mussels ($12) were overcooked. I dug through the bowl, prying open shells to find the few that were appetizing. The broth—mostly butter, saffron, and garlic—wasn't terrible, but certainly too rich for my taste.
The most disappointing entrée, because it was on the verge of being satisfying, was the grilled flat iron steak ($14). The meat was actually tender and sapid, and the cipollini onions were a great touch. But the entire thing was consumed by a swamp of baby food they call "mushroom ragu." It was overpowering, malodorous, and it permeated everything.
The service was friendly and accommodating—I think they genuinely wanted us to have a good experience—but it all felt a little amateurish. It was nothing egregious, but it's tougher to be generous when there's nothing particularly redeeming. My lunch order eclipsed the time on my meter. They waited until we were done with our appetizers to ask if they should fire the entrées. The waiter did give a nice drink recommendation, a hot toddy made with their house-infused peach bourbon—the flavors worked really well—but it came out at room temperature. In the end, I was desperate to wash off the smoothness of the place with whiskey and a decent jukebox.
I wish there were something nice I could say, but any attempt sounds like, "It would be one of the classier strip clubs in town." The fact of the matter is, I can't think of a reason to go back to Pink Rose, at least until somebody else takes over the lease.