The story: Husband-and-wife team Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton (owners of the popular Ox Restaurant) loved combining appetizers when dining out, intrigued by the mashup of flavors. The couple, who says they love bold flavors, decided to open a restaurant built around the little bites with lots of flavor that comes at the start of a meal in the form of amuse bouche or appetizers. In late April, they opened their new restaurant in Portland’s West End called SuperBite.
Why I went: Even when traveling in Portland, I’m always in the look out for new places. So when I heard SuperBite opened a few weeks before my planned trip, I put it on my list of restaurants to try. Because it was close to my sister’s Pearl District condo, I easily walked there for dinner one night. Since they don’t take reservations, I got there on the early side knowing most Portlanders eat late, and I ended up getting the first seat at the chef’s counter watching two chefs who were in charge of the cold plates.
The vibe: The splashy new restaurant was bright and shiny, with a large bar at the entrance (that was already packed) and a more sedate dining room. The counter where I sat had decorative tile that gave the spot a Latin flavor, which makes sense since the couple’s first restaurant Ox is a spin on Argentinean dishes. As the night went on and the crowds arrived, there was a slightly dressy atmosphere like people arriving for a coming out party. If I weren’t so much in vacation mode, I would have thought I was in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood.
The booze: This being Portland, there’s a full bar program with specialty cocktails with unusual names like “Art & Leisure,” “Tell It To the Judge,” or “Shoulda Woulda Coulda.” But as some of you know, I’ve been trying to take it easy on the drinking so I stuck with a glass of red wine, choosing the local tempranillo from Three Wives in Willamette Valley ($14).
The menu: As noted, this restaurant is all about the small bite with bold flavors. In some ways, it’s similar to the dim style approach from San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions (although they don’t roll the dishes out in carts). The menu has about 10 items (and its most interesting) in the bites section, followed by a few plates (considered small plates size), and then normal dishes (called platters). I tried three small bites (ranging in price from $4 to $6) that really are like amuse bouches, albeit more composed and complicated. All the bites did indeed have bold flavors, to the point where sometimes it was too strong, like the hibiscus ponzu in the salmon belly crudo ($4) which gave the overall bite a tart taste.
The small plates also could be a mix plate. The fresh fettuccine with sea urchin ($19) was creamy and flavorful (though I felt like the uni taste was a bit lost although the plate captured the uni color), and the maple-roasted pork belly ($15) was a colorful plate of seasonal strawberries and watermelon radish, but the prok belly itself was a bit tough (I love my pork belly tender like butter).
My favorite dish: My favorite bite was a small bite, the Dungeness crab bite ($6) that was fresh crab sitting on an artichoke custard and fried onion ring. The flavors were balanced and the crab so fresh, with a mix of texture from the custard and crunchy onion ring. This is the kind of bite you’d want to order again and again (until it’s a full plate, LOL).
The last bite: SuperBite is a flavorful concept, but as I spent more than $90 for my dinner and left not necessarily feeling full, I wondered if a restaurant about small bites can be sustainable. Some people might come out of curiosity, but would they come out often to keep it going? Only time will tell.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: SuperBite, 527 SW 12th St. (at Adler), Portland. PH: 503.222.0979. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. No reservations (except for parties of 6 or more), major credit cards accepted. www.superbitepdx.com
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