Reader Survey 2012: This Restaurant is Coasting on its Reputation

I love this question. Though I inevitably get nasty letters for including it, I think it is a good predictor of the Portland restaurant scene, and I love to watch how various restaurants come and go over the years. I also appreciate how difficult it must be for a restaurant to change a damaged reputation. Case in point, Bluehour. It floundered towards downright lousy under the last chef. Now Thomas Boyce, an experienced chef with some real chops has taken over, and from what I hear, the food has gotten much better. Unfortunately, Bluehour still comes in near the top of the list. The problem is, after a restaurant flounders, they can’t get folks to come back and give them another try.

In 2010, the list went

  • Higgins
  • Jakes
  • Bluehour
  • Wildwood
  • Ringside

For 2012, out of 518 votes:

  • Higgins – 24%
  • Jakes Famous Crawfish – 9.6%
  • Bluehour – – 6.6%
  • Paley’s Place – 6.6%
  • Pok Pok – 5.9%
  • Toro Bravo – 5.9%
  • Wildwood – 5.9%
  • Clyde Common – 5.8%
  • Beast – 5.7%
  • Le Pigeon – 5.6%

Judging by this list, Higgins is still in trouble – considerably more than last year. Bluehour needs to do some PR. I’ve heard rumors that Wildwood has gotten better, but I haven’t been there in years (which perfectly demonstrates how hard it is to get people to come back when you become known for lousy food at expensive prices). It’s interesting to see Toro Bravo and Beast on the list, however I have heard nothing but complaints over the past year about the food at Le Pigeon and Clyde Common on the list, so their inclusion doesn’t surprise me at all.

You can see all the Reader Survey 2012 winners (or losers) here.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. hsawtelle says

    I still think the food at The Pidge is great. So there, now you can’t say you’ve heard nothing but complaints :)

  2. theFoodyGuy says

    Hey Food Dude,, are you sure you are not me? [said with smile]. I tend to write about the food quality and its edibility- again form my perspective. The only one in the list above I have a real issue with was Paleys Place where I took my mother there for a special occasion. Her comment to me was “they are selling dog food”. Let me explain that, the cuts of meat being served at the time were in deed cheap as chips cuts of meat we buy for our dogs. They were being tarted up and past off as silly priced dishes. Not cleaver and for the culinary snobs who rave about bone marrow one comment,, oh dear.
    The service also had something to be desired as I asked for a little more horseradish for my dish and was basically told no, it was made to perfection in the kitchen and that is it. I also have to add the owner was away at the time so it may well have been a case of while the owner is away,,,,, one thing at the prices charged I expect something more.

  3. L'epicier says

    I would expect to have seen McCormick’s on this list (I guess it is there in the form of Jake’s) but no one goes there anymore. I was taken there as a guest and it was really terrible. But Higgins? It may not be super cutting edge but that is my favorite downtown. I know it does look a little shabby and dated but the food and service is always superb. Pok Pok Noi is not nearly as good as the Division St location – I wonder if the owner being away in NYC affects it… Toro Bravo has always been great, surprised to see it on the list.

  4. Man-o-steele says

    We know you have a soft spot for Paley’s Place, but no comment on why they are on the list and at the same % as Bluehour?

    • says

      I’m not sure why Paley’s Toro or Pok. Are on the list. In truth, I think Paley’s has slipped a but in food and service over the past year, but not that much

      • JandJ says

        Totally agree w.r.t. Paley’s. I have seen no real change in their quality over the entire 16+ years they’ve been in business. Dog food? Really? Gimme a freakin’ break. Try a chef’s menu some time and really turn them loose… You might get even a better idea of what that kitchen is really capable of. Higgins? That’s another kettle of fish. Had an extremely bad experience there a couple of years ago (grossly overcooked and inedible veg, way oversalted meat… a real disaster of a meal). Will not be returning. Service is incredible there, but doesn’t compensate for terrible execution.

        • abefroman says

          so, at the time you received your meal and it was grossly oversalted and the veg was inedible you did not make that clear to the staff and get it replaced? just curious

          • JandJ says

            Abe… yes we did point this out and got appropriate apologies and that particular dish comped. So, yes, they did the right thing at the moment. But, it left us thinking that with all the amazing alternatives there are in Portland, that this place might simply be well past its prime. Our previous experience there (prior to that visit) wasn’t quite as bad, but again, didn’t live up to what so many newer restaurants are now able to deliver in this city. Frankly, regardless whether the restaurant makes good on such a thing or not, the fact that something so poorly executed was even let out of the kitchen is an indication that things are not as they should be back there. That hardly gives me the incentive to run back for yet another try. Hope that explains this a bit better.

  5. Live To Eat says

    I think Higgin’s only downfall is their lack of self promotion. The quality of their food is not lacking. Halibut, flat iron steak, the best charcuterie plate in town. Somehow they fall off the foodie radar. Come on Greg, get involved in some of these food events and strut your stuff!!!

    • garden girl says

      I have never, ever had a satisfactory meal at Higgins, even when I’ve seen Greg in the kitchen. I dread it when someone says “Let me take you to Higgins”….ugh!

  6. deyoedude says

    tried bluehour for lunch…. not so good…. went for dinner …. spent some time there…. not impressed at all…. waste of a good evening… I find it hard to believe people find it a quality place…. service was good … food was kinda lame for what we put down for it…. a real foodie realizes it doesnt stand up…… will never go back…. waste of time

  7. Bixente Tartaxu says

    I also had an exceptionally poor “meal-like experience” at Paley’s. After appetizer and main course, we decided to cut our losses and skip dessert. An expensive mistake and haven’t been back since. I’m surprised to see Pok Pok, Toro Bravo and Le Pigeon on the list – they’re always good in my book. Jake’s shouldn’t even be considered because it’s part of a chain, and I refuse to frequent chains, even if they started here. As for forced business meals at Jake’s or Higgins, I simply say no and suggest something else. My colleagues appreciate new alternatives.

  8. jimster says

    This may prove unpopular and old-fashioned but I wonder if some of the votes cast for Higgins (especially) and Wildwood are simply cast from experiences that are out dated. Dustin Clark at Wildwood puts out some of the best examples of the omni-present fresh, local New American cuisine, the drinks are excellent and the wine list is terrific. Try it for lunch on a Saturday and get some shoestring onion rings, oven fired mussels and whatever they have on that’s seasonal and sounds good.

    I eat at Higgins quite a bit as I live in restaurant challenged SW. Last night we had soba noodle salad with spinach and seaweed, house cured gravlax (that were perfectly done) with cored local cucumbers, a picanted sauce, mache and some dill-like green. We also had the burger. Hardly the menu of a place resting on its laurels. Their miso-poached salmon is one of the best preparations I have had, they slways have 2 great soups (one of which is vegan) and 4-5 specials each night. Very good wine list, lots of beers and well done old-school cocktails. I think that sometimes I find fault with entrees that are too large both in overall size and the amount of sides they put on the plate but I rarely either eat off the full menu or sit in the dining room. Higgins is frequently as crowded as I can abide so I’m happy for folks to stay away from this non-foodie, uber paradise.

  9. Bixente Tartaxu says

    You know re: Pok Pok, technically you are correct, with the opening of their NYC outlets. I don’t consider local chains like Hot Lips Pizza or Little Big Burger to be a threat to our food culture – yet. So in some ways, Pok Pok can be overlooked for their foray into NYC. However compare that to Stumptown’s aggressive expansions coupled with its purchase by a VC firm, give me cause for concern, as much as it pains me to say it about this second best Portland coffee (the first of course being Coffee People before they were overtaken by the Big Green Empire). Sigh.

  10. PtH says

    now you know, FD, that I’d be the first to jump on the bashwagon here. But I have to be honest for honesty sake. The truth is that Wildwood, under it’s completely overhauled regime, and Bluehour, under it’s newest chef, are actually turning out very good, and occasionally inspired food. Really quite good, actually! Seriously. Give them try. Primarily Wildwood.

    Also, while I can’t afford it too often, and while the menu is always limited, I feel Higgin’s still turns out some really good dishes. Anything featuring duck, goose, or fish is sure to please if you can afford it.

  11. PtH says


    Agreed!! Nice full report! I saw your comment after posting my own. Yours is much more specific and hence usable. Thanks for posting this!


  12. PtH says

    One more…. Just noticed the 2012 list was below the 2010 list after reading all of the comments.
    I’m baffled… Pok Pok for the most part, and CERTAINLY Le Pigeon and Toro Bravo turn out among the consistently best food in the entire metro area. Period. I can only figure that people have decided they’re to cool for what’s told to them to be “hip”. Like saying Stumptown Coffee’s quality has slipped, which is simply not true. Cost up? Yes. No longer the little Indie hip proudly local micro co is once was? Yes. Does that change the quality or consistency? No.
    Same with Pigeon, Pok Pok, and Toro Bravo (and Tasty& Sons). They’re exceptional restaurants that turn out quality ever time, with excellent service, every time.

    I wish the “cool” factor didn’t play into judgments about quality. :-(

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