In a city gaining national attention for its food, it’s not too surprising to find global influences on the plate. At Ox in Portland’s Northeast area, I’m talking specifically about the South American flavors of Argentina.
Ox, opened in April by the husband-and-wife chef team Greg and Gabrielle Denton, is described on its website as a restaurant serving up Argentine dishes from the grill using local Portland ingredients that are in season. The no-reservations destination has been so hot that the wait can be up to two hours.
That’s exactly what I was quoted when I arrived with my friend Ann. After giving my cell phone number, we walked next door to Ox’s new bar called Whey Bar, which opened in August. I didn’t mind waiting because I haven’t seen Ann for years, so it gave us a good excuse to catch up.
Side note: While the Whey Bar had a funky cocktail menu (My drink was called the “Things Done Changed” that was their own version of a pisco sour), it was tiny and cramped, and not that enjoyable of a spot to wait. The limited bar menu was basically fancy (translation: expensive) olives and nuts.
Luckily, we only had to wait an hour because the restaurant called to say they had counter seats at the restaurant bar if we were interested. We grabbed it for sure because the olives weren’t holding us over much.
Ox restaurant, while cozy and rustic with the wood-fire grill the center of attention, also has very limited seating, which probably explains the long waits. The menu itself was impressive, with several sections featuring tradition Argentine specialties like empanadas and asado.
Many of the plates were offered in small or large portions, so Ann and I decided to order several small dishes to share.
When I visited Buenos Aires, I because a true believer of expertly grilled quality meats. When done right, the flavors and textures were amazing even though they were often simply prepared with minimal spices.
At Ox, the meats (or at least the ones we ordered) turned out to be less than stellar – like the beef short ribs ($11) that were chewy and a tad overcooked, or the special charcuterie plate of spicy smoked lamb and pork belly linguica ($12) that was too spicy.
I actually enjoyed the non-meat dishes better, like the balanced spiciness of the braised octopus and beef tripe ($11). The octopus and tripe were both nicely cooked to a tender texture; it was difficult to tell which was which. And a seasonal salad of Belgian endive and Bosc pears, arugula, and aged farmstead gruyere ($10) was beautifully presented and refreshing.
Desserts ($8 each) were also beautifully plated, but we weren’t excited about the items we ordered. A cheesecake panna cotta custard was thick and almost cheesy in texture instead of creamy. And a dessert called “Magic” was basically a roasted pear sorbet with bittersweet chocolate drizzles sitting on a bed of shredded pear and Marcona almonds. It didn’t seem all that magical to me.
Despite some missteps in the texture of the food, specifically the meat and desserts, all the dishes at Ox comes to the table with bold flavors, playing up the lively theme of Argentina. I’m just glad we only had to wait an hour, because two hours would be better spent looking for a cheap ticket to Buenos Aires.
Rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
Ox, 2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland, Ore. PH: 503.284.3366. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to closing. No reservations, except for parties of 6 or more. Major credit cards accepted. oxpdx.com
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