NOTE: BAY 13 CLOSED IN 2009
Bay 13 opened the second week of February, across from 24 Hour Fitness in the Pearl District. Reconstructed in a run down abandoned warehouse, this restaurant helps to dress up an area that is typically a badlands after 8pm, and will help pull crowds down from the other side of the Pearl. Owned by the Moana Group, a large corporation having restaurants in many states, including Paragon in Portland, this warehouse has been converted into a 175 seat restaurant. Though clearly a lot of money has been spent, I wonder exactly what crowd they are hoping to attract. Something tells me it’s not foodies, but more along the lines of the folks that frequent Manzana, out looking for “something even better”. Give it six months, and unless the cooking improves, it will be a soulless repository of Pearl District denizens, hoping for flash over substance; the type of person that isn’t really likely to read this site in the first place. All signs point to this as their target audience, and there is little doubt that as the doors are flung open every night, they will have an unflagging line of scene-sniffing patrons waiting to get in.
To enter, you walk up a flight of stairs onto the loading dock. Those in wheel chairs will have to use one of those electric lift things. Why they didn’t bother putting in a ramp, I don’t quite understand. The loading dock itself, with plans for heated seating, looks like a comfortable place to spend an evening, and I’m sure it will be full of tables during the warmer months. Supposedly the design will include a fish market, but it isn’t open yet. They also have plans to open for lunch.
The interior is huge, a monument to the corporate ideal that bigger is better. The latest incarnation of the Crane 1909 warehouse building, it is imitation techno/industrial/warehouse loft, with concrete floors, soaring ceilings, and an incredibly corporate feel. My companions got annoyed, because I immediately compared it to a Cheesecake Factory, but I couldn’t help it; the whole place just has that feel.
As you walk into the front door, a sushi bar is on the left, an oyster bar is directly in front of you, and behind it, a long bar runs to the far wall. Down the right, some long tables under dimmed fluorescent lights stretch quite a distance, giving those tables a communal feel. (No, I don’t know how they dimmed those lights.) In the middle is a cavernous dining room, broken up into several spaces with 3/4 height walls, and across from it is a large kitchen, visible through the pass-through. The high ceiling makes the place feel like a bad imitation of Nostrana, and though there is a fair amount of sound absorbing material, when the restaurant is full, it can be hard to hear your companions. Since they save on linen costs and help keep prices down, the hard wood table tops are fine, but they also reflect sound. On top of that, the ever-present techy soundtrack provides another note to the clamorous roar.
We were given a pleasant greeting and seated in the main dining room. Our bouncy server approached and gave the requisite speech, which sounded way too memorized. Water, both sparkling and flat, is distilled on site (filtered three times)! I expected to be told they were an extra charge, but it seems that both are on the house. Still, I found it curious that our water glasses were never filled more than half way.
We ordered two sushi plates; a king roll ($12) and a spicy tuna roll ($8), along with two salads, a Caesar and a roasted beet. Both were around $7. Since I wasn’t paying for the meal, I didn’t get the receipt with the exact prices. We also ordered four entrées, two petrale sole (which is actually a type of flounder), ($24), and two grilled ahi tuna ($23).
Four cocktails, er, that’s one per person, passed the time while we waited for our food. A tiny alarm bell went off in my head, as we shared our drinks; every single cocktail was unbalanced, even a traditional drink that any bartender should be able to make. An even worse sin, mine seemed to have little alcohol. Still, it’s opening week, so we plunged on. A roasted beet salad arrived, but I had to dig to find the sparse shavings of beets hidden within the greens. It was overdressed to the point I couldn’t really taste them. I thought it terribly amusing when I said a la Wendy’s, “Where’s the beet!” As usual, no one laughed. Two Caesars were slightly better, with a decent flavor profile, though they were a bit off balance towards the anchovy end of things, and seemed to have been dressed wet.
As soon as we had finished the salads, our entrées arrived. This was strange, because we had ordered three plates of sushi, and were still waiting for them. When queried, our waiter explained that this was normal, and depending on how backed up the sushi bar was, those dishes could come out at any time. True to his word, they came out at the end of our meal as… dessert.
Back to the entrées; the menu is mostly made up of fish dishes, the focus here. There are a few meat entrées, as well as one vegetarian plate. Everything came out properly cooked; the sole piled high with a mound of crab. One of the reasons for ordering flounder is it tends to have a very low-fat flesh, but their version tasted as though it had been drowned in butter. The ahi reclined across the plate, adorned with grill marks and accompanied by a small ramekin of a decent, fresh verde sauce. No problems here, everything was fine. When we ordered we were given a choice of four sides; glazed vegetables, potato puree, cauliflower, and spinach. Out of all four, the vegetables were by far the best of the lot, perfectly cooked, and packed full of flavor; damn near perfect.
As we finished our main dishes, the sushi arrived, three long rolls arranged across the plates, accompanied by the requisite sides. While the fish tasted fresh, there was something very corporate to it; no art. I’ve never had grocery sushi, but if I did, this is what I would expect to get. The wasabi (of course it wasn’t the real stuff), was overly grainy.
Since we’d just had sushi, we decided to skip dessert, so instead wandered up to a new bar, District, in the old La Vanguardia space. I’ll have a quick hit on that, in a few days.
Would I come here again? Probably not, unless friends who’s opinions I trust start giving it rave reviews. I’m just not a fan of the corporate restaurant theme park, and if they want to draw me in, it’s going to take more than properly cooked fish.
Prices were a bit less than expected for the Pearl District, with salads running around $7, entrées $20 or so.