Medium Well

Portland's shows promise, especially at lunch

For dinner, filet mignon is a chunk of good beef swamped with flavor-challenged truffle sauce (a little truffle goes a long way, but it hasn't survived this trip). And a signature dish, Portland's Guadalajaran New York strip, needs to find a new country to inspire it. Peppery crust is a nice start, but crisscrossed strips of provolone don't belong wrapped around a $26 cut of beef. A pool of "fiery mole" is anything but, just a dousing of bitter, watery sauce. And for this money we get ungainly slabs of zucchini and squash, unseasoned except for a free-for-all with the pepper shaker. A promised side of stuffed poblano chile is missing, replaced with a gotta-be-leftovers mash of potatoes, bacon chunks and scallion.

Salmon causes a disappointed sigh. The hefty hunk is perfectly pan-seared but has no soul, flavored only by its own fatty nature and the intermittent spirit of tart greens plated underneath. A side of caviar lentils adds some oomph, showing up nicely al dente and stocked with greens plus bits of bacon and onion. The bashful pan-seared halibut also needs livening up with its sides of vegetables and field greens. Other choices are even more cautious, including roasted chicken breast with vegetable ragout and mashed potatoes or grilled rib eye with potatoes, vegetables and buttermilk onions.

Another specialty, chicken vesuvio, sounds like it would be spicy, but it's not. The individual components are great, with bow-tie pasta, sun-dried tomato, artichoke heart (fresh slabs of real heart), pulled chicken breast, roasted grape tomato, mild cream sauce and chunks of fresh garlic. But there's no Parmesan in the sauce and the plate is dull after just a few bites.

Family fare: Portland's Cafe Royale is owned by (from left) Dylan and Michelle Bethge and Michelle's brother Rick DuFon.
Erik Guzowski
Family fare: Portland's Cafe Royale is owned by (from left) Dylan and Michelle Bethge and Michelle's brother Rick DuFon.

Location Info

Map

Portland's Restaurant

105 W. Portland St.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

602-795-5354. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m.

Appetizers:
Diver scallops: $10
Butter-braised shrimp: $9
Field green salad: $8

Entrees:
French dip: $9
Charlotte's club: $10
Chicken vesuvio: $13
Guadalajaran NY strip: $26

105 West Portland

Portland's is noteworthy for its sandwiches (lunch only), paired with mountains of shoestring potatoes. Charlotte's club combo towers three inches high, stuffing grilled, caraway-studded bread with fistfuls of deli roast beef, smoked turkey, provolone, crisp bacon, romaine and tomato. A marvelous monster. More of the turkey is tucked in a croissant with avocado, provolone, sprouts and veggies for high-fat comfort food. An old-fashioned, all-American burger, made with Angus-ground sirloin topped with Cheddar, is satisfying if you're in the mood for a classic. The French dip needs two things: a crusty roll (the soft, barely grilled bun is boring), and a reworked jus. This broth harks back to the bourguignon liquid: colored water that's irritating instead of enhancing, crushing another dream because I believe this sandwich should inspire shrines. The mounds of meat within are so good and provolone is applied in a generously thick, melting blanket that a good jus would make it well-nigh perfect.

Phoenix needs more good restaurants downtown, but they should reflect the hip crowd most likely to live there. Portland's needs a more assertive attitude: more creative use of spices and better sauces could make it great.

This place has taken a risk with an innovative location. We wish they'd tap into that same gutsiness and put it into the food.

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