When I was picking restaurants to visit for the upcoming trip to Oregon with my wife Jun, I probably had the highest expectations at Erizo, a sustainable seafood tasting menu restaurant that opened earlier this year and touted that the seafood offerings will be caught by the head chef Jacob Harth himself. New York City has no shortages of outstanding seafood restaurants, but Portland’s proximity to the Pacific Coast seemed to offer enticing opportunities to sample some fresh seafood there. Once I entered a “secret” door to the restaurant at the building housing the restaurant from the same team Bar Casa Vale, though, I was somewhat thrown off by the vibe. The music coming from the dining space was something that you would listen while getting high on weed, and there was clearly some issue with insect control as multiple flies were roaming around with no inhibition. I was expecting a bit more serene dining space where I feel like I’m about to embark on a special culinary journey. Of course, all would have been forgiven if the food at Erizo had been outstanding; suffice to say it was probably the worst dining experience for both Jun and myself in 2019.
I’ve always viewed the word “sustainable” with skeptic eyes when it comes to everything I eat and drink. Of course, I would prefer that my food be organically grown with no artificial influences. However, I also believe that the message of sustainability is abused from time to time to mask poor quality while making consumers feel good about themselves. Just like I can’t stand funky natural wines that have become a fad in recent years even that they taste like sour grape juice, I also can’t defend restaurants that preach the message of responsibility to the environment while also serving bad food. Such was the case with our experience at Erizo. Of course, this being a tasting menu restaurant serving multiple dishes, not all of them were terrible. The snack bites of smoked trout roe pie and spot prawn tostada were both decent enough to make me anticipate for better things to come.
Even though Jun thought the crawfish was not fresh enough, I thought it was solid with the way it worked with tomato. Some items from the assortment of raw dishes were also quite delicious when combined with vegetables, such as the geoduck with artichoke or the barnacles with fava beans. The best dish that we both agreed on was the octopus that was more or less perfectly grilled, and the romesco sauce (with flavor of wild rice mixed in) giving a very nice hint of spicy. More often than not, however, we utterly struggled to understand what the kitchen was trying to achieve. The yellowfin tuna from Hawaii was supposedly dry aged for 20 days, but we couldn’t tell the difference to the tuna’s flavor or texture. The cuttlefish and peas seemed to be a pretty intriguing combination but it ended up not being particularly inspiring. Jun couldn’t understand why mackerel that came out as the main dish was being sourced from Boston instead of somewhere from the Pacific Coast, and it just was not grilled as well as we would normally expect from other mackerel dishes.
The desserts were similarly underwhelming, from the blueberries that didn’t blend in very well with Nootka rose mousseline and caramelized buttermilk crumble, to the chocolate mousse accompanied by coffee cream and cacao nibs that Jun thought wasn’t much distinguishable from a 99-cent chocolate pudding. Bad food was not the only issue at Erizo. The overall planning and execution had much to desire as well. In the middle of the meal, pineapple was served supposedly marinated, and accompanied by a sheet of seaweed for palate cleansing. I seriously doubt this odd combination achieved that purpose. Before the mackerel came out, a cold Parker House roll bread came with nori butter. Did no one think to warm this up a little? Even the delicious octopus dish, which was served in a bowl instead of a plate to make it rather challenging to get to the food, left us wondering if there was someone at the restaurant who was giving serious thoughts to the diners’ comfort. The biggest gripe that we both had was the price: at $125 per person plus a bottle of wine that got the bill close to $400 including tips (thank God there Oregon doesn’t charge sales taxes!), I felt we were ripped off big time.
I booked a table for Erizo as soon as the spot opened up on the day of our planned visit, so I’m not sure how difficult it is to make the reservations (which are available two months in advance for two seatings per day at 5:30 and 8:15 p.m.). As noted above, the overall vibe at the restaurant’s dining room was confusing and I seriously wished someone from the staff did something to address the roaming flies during our meal. The small wine list was on the pricey side and the bottle of Cabernet Franc from southern Oregon (our server was certainly not well-versed in wine as she struggled to explain which region it came from) was forgettable at best. After our disastrous meal, I constantly apologized to Jun for picking Erizo; my generous wife weakly laughed that we need to have these types of bad experiences every once in a while. Could it be that opening the restaurant on the Fourth of July when we visited had an effect on the morale of the kitchen and everyone was just having a bad day? I sincerely wish that was what happened on our visit. Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding all the accolades that are starting to trickle in, including a spot on The Best New Restaurants in the United States list in Eater website that I very much respect. In fact, our experience at Erizo, perhaps unfairly, impacted our dining experience in Portland during the rest of our trip and made us feel that Portland is not the same culinary center that New York is.
KenScale: 6.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 6.75/10)
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 4.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 6.0/10
- Value: 3.0/10
Address: 215 SE 9th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
Telephone: (503) 206-8619