I'm in a quandary. A veritable quandary (!). You see, I'm trying to be a better person, and I've realized that all this time I've been scoffing at Veritable Quandary because of its idiotic name. What if the best restaurant in the universe is right under my nose and I'm too busy looking down it to know?
So I go. And though it's far, far from the best restaurant in the universe, it does have something spectacular: a time machine! VQ can take you straight back to 1992, and gawd knows those were more prosperous times. The brick walls and wood floors scream of attorneys gone by, and the patrons, if you'll pardon me for saying so, don't appear to be thinking too far outta the box. At least they're not dressing that way. Even VQ's website boasts, "It's as if you have been transported to a different place and time, the soft lighting accenting the photographs of how Portland's riverside used to be."
But here I sit with my 2003 paycheck, and I have no choice but to order light. I choose the Prosciutto di Parma Arugula salad, with port-soaked dried cherries, candied walnuts and shaved pecorino. A tasty early '90s menu staple, VQ's version offers arugula so overgrown and tough, I wonder if it was planted back when the dish was still en vogue. I know it's out of season, but for $11 find a greenhouse, wouldya?! My dining companion had that awful thing happen when you order your $9 burger medium rare, and by the time you figure out that someone forgot to cook it at all, you're too grossed out to send it back. She bails out on eating it altogether and hides it under the lettuce garnish, muttering something about Stanich's.
To its credit, VQ produces a seafood stew with clams, mussels, calamari, fish, and prawns that sings. The seafood was tender, the broth robust, and it was a good value. To be fair, a complete assessment of the restaurant would include sampling the entreés, but having been so annoyed by my first visit, I'll never get the chance. Late night action is big at VQ as well, and it has the awards to prove it.
But, alas--and I realize I'm scapegoating a bit here--it's 2003 in Portland, and I'm losing patience for overpriced, overworked food. What VQ claims is a "market-driven" menu is less in touch with what Portland wants than my dead granny. No, I am not an inexperienced diner without a palette. Yes, I will spend top dollar for a very special occasion, and when I do, I expect to be inspired. I want fairly simple, balanced, affordable food made from high-quality ingredients. Is that so wrong? Am I the only one who feels this way? I think not. As VQ and I get older, seems like we're headed in opposite directions.
From where I'm sitting, looks like it's high time for an overhaul--but therein lies the quandary.