Review: Kin

10/17/2012 – This restaurant is now closed.

Kin

There’s a wonderful Yiddish word, “ongepotchket.” meaning something that is excessive or overly baroque. In his “relaxed lexicon” of Yiddish, Leo Rosten tells a joke which perfectly illustrates the word. Fleishman, an art collector, buys a painting much admired by his friend Meyerson. It consists of a large black square with one white dot in the center. A year later Fleishman buys another work by the same artist, this one a large black square with two white dots. Meyerson, urged to see the new acquisition, regards the new work with suspicion: “I don’t like it. Too ongepotchket.”

 

Tuna Tartare

Maybe I’m too much like Meyerson the fussy purist, but since ongepotchket could well be another name for fusion cooking, I’ll try to see whether the term applies to a new restaurant that traffics heavily in such culinary eclecticism. Kin, a recently opened restaurant in the Pearl, is assiduously devoted to two versions of ongepotchket-keit: the pile-up and the incongruous. As an example of the first, here’s a description of a single dish: roasted pork loin on crisp risotto with root vegetables, lentils, and manchego and kale in caramelized onion sauce. And of the second, here’s a brief listing of some dishes from the menu: Chinese sausage steamed bao, seared emu with cranberries, quail with bok choi and gnocchi, and duck confit and duck-maki sushi.

In other words, where exactly are we?

Call it the new globalism if you will. And since the cooking at Kin can occasionally be quite good, it may be unnecessarily irascible and excessively traditionalist of me to complain about the potpourri effect. Perhaps the best way to enjoy one’s visit to Kin is to imagine you’re taking a quick ecumenical tour, or at least an Asian-Western one. There’s no question that the plates at Kin can be picture-perfect, camera-ready bursts of aesthetic glory. Kevin Shikami, the restaurant’s owner who arrived in Portland from major chefly stints in Chicago, is painterly, or sculptural in his presentations. The problem, however, is that the culinary universalist syndrome can easily create disorientation, and make you wonder about the direction of the kitchen, its tendency to create a menu that often seems more a matter of whim than of a carefully thought out idea put into action. Perhaps the quintessential Kin dish is a sautéed breast of duck with ginger and roasted squash, with sushi of duck. Regardless of the repeated motif, the sushi seems like an afterthought rather than part of a coherent concept.

Pork Belly steamed buns

As for that emu, it must be a first on local menus; emu is one of those curious animals indigenous to Australia, a flightless bird close cousin of the ostrich, and a source of similar-tasting red meat. (For mythology buffs, an Aboriginal myth holds that the sun was created when someone threw an emu’s egg into the sky.) Kin serves several slices of the gamey meat backed by either caramelized apple or caramelized pear and a bit of goat cheese. The result is a rather nice meaty salad and a satisfying autumnal way of beginning a meal.

Kin tries its hand at pastas, but while some have a complex and well orchestrated assemblage of ingredients such as the floppy ravioli filled with duck meat and garnished with the peppery dry salami known as soppressata  (the excess appears again in the melange of kale, a puree of sun choke, and wild mushrooms), other pastas are oddly incongruous. So, a bowl of “agnolotti” swimming in gravy are nothing like that vaunted Piedmont pasta. Kin’s have almost no stuffing other than a thin wipe of squash, with more of that kale on the side; moreover, the “agnolotti” seem not much more than thin flaps of dough rather than artfully shaped envelopes (the best agnolotti for my money are crescent shaped). Again there seems to be a plethora of ingredients—duck confit, kale, shallots.

Another disappointing dish proved to be a risotto—far too wet—decorated with Oregon black truffles, an ingredient notoriously lacking in the intense flavor of the Piedmont white truffle; indeed the Oregon truffles provide virtually no distinct flavor. And again, too much is going on: argula, chanterelles, caramelized onion broth, and the soppressata—each a perfectly fine element, but when piled together focus is lost. And I want to know what agnolotti and sushi are doing on the same menu. No references to Marco Polo, please.

I welcomed the anticipation of a soup of celery root—an underutilized vegetable—but once again I experienced a let down for its over-starchy texture and its blandness (at the very least it needed a bit of salt); somehow the accompanying green salad made me think of an ordinary lunch of soup and salad. Another starter, hamachi ceviche, is done reasonably well, though it needs a bit more zip to it. The drawing back of flavor intensity seems endemic to Kin. When I have a Jones for ceviche, I know I’ll head to Andina.

Braised Short Rib in red wine with caramelized red onion, ragout of root vegetables, shitake and potato-onion and thyme terrine

There’s some redemption in the entrees. The short rib braised in red wine is fabulous—at last a dish to crow madly about. It’s a late fall/winter enchantment, and I loved the slight fatty edge to the meat, just enough to yield a delectable richness, while the ragout of root vegetables sounded a complementary earthy note to the Painted Hills beef. Though the menu listed purple sweet potato as the accompaniment, a fine puree of white potatoes arrived instead, creamed to ambrosia with a ton of butter. A double lamb dish of loin and sausage, complemented with garbanzos, preserved lemon, and harissa, is executed with proper Maghrebi savvy. But the abrupt shift in cuisine gave me that “if it’s Wednesday it must be Morocco” feeling.

A couple of fish choices reveal the restaurant’s persistent unevenness. Miso-glazed black cod is nicely succulent (though I have to say that delicate fish, like dim lighting, will make anyone look good); Kin gives the cod an Asian treatment, steeping the fish in the sweet-fermented seasoning, chili, ginger, and soy. But then another cod known as red bandit (actually a Pacific rockfish) is unremittingly dull, bathed in a bland coconut milk curry, as if the kitchen were reluctant to frighten American customers with the vibrant flavors of Thailand.

The desserts are satisfying, to be sure. I especially liked an apple-pear tart with a pistachio crumble on top, turning the dish into something less like a tart than an apple-pear Brown Betty, the nuts echoed in the pistachio ice cream. And if you’re in a blustery weather state of mind, you might like Kin’s pumpkin bread pudding, replete with seasonal cranberries and ginger, all juicy and runny with syrup and maple syrup ice cream.

Seared Ahi with risotto in matsutake mushroom broth

What does it feel like to be here? The restaurant is thoughtfully decorated, on one wall a dramatic sculpture of vines, on another cylinders of stretched material over more vines concealing soft lights that illuminate the space with a certain elegance. There’s a prominently placed bar, though there was absolutely no action at it during each of my three visits. In fact, on two of those occasions my party was the only one in the entire restaurant. Bigger crowds will inevitably heat up the sadly empty, echo-y room and make things feel warmer and cozier, but for the moment there’s a slight chill in the air. Perhaps if Shikami decides exactly what he wants Kin to be, they will come. His talent is real, and his ambition is evident. But Kin’s menu and mission need some serious rethinking in order to create a more coherent identity, one which does not rely on a bit of this, a bit of that.

Right now, I count a half-dozen white dots on the black square.

____________________________________________________________

Food: B minus

Service: B

Ambiance: B

Address: 524 NW 14th Ave.

Phone: 503-228-4546

Website: kinrestaurant.com

Hours: Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Happy Hour Tuesday-Friday.

Noise level: Few people were there during any of my three visits, so it was hushed as a tomb.

Credit cards; reservations.

Appetizers: $7-$14; entrees: $21-$24; desserts $3-$7.

Wine list: modest but nicely chosen list mostly from France, California, and the Northwest; a range of prices from $22 to $95, more of them at the lower end.

A full bar, with a specialty of vodkas. Who would not want to try some with names like Dry Fly, Hot Monkey, Mud Puddle—all distilled in the Northwest?

SELECTED DISHES

 

SMALL PLATES

Tartare of Tuna with fresh pickles and won ton crisps   12

Hamachi Ceviche in Yuzu Vinaigrette with chili, ginger, sweet onion, shiso, daikon, basil and cucumber   12

Steamed Buns with Chinese Style Pork Belly, spicy nappa salad and fresh herbs    9

Seared Local Emu with grilled tart apples, arugula, fennel, celery root, toasted hazelnuts and goat cheese  11

Roasted Sea Scallop on hop lava braised turnips with chanterelles, house cured bacon and spinach   12

Sunchoke Soup with grilled rare Chinook Salmon, pickled chanterelles, watercress, truffle oil and leek cream   11

LARGE PLATES

Roasted Quail with Duck Ravioli, chanterelles, roasted garlic, kale, shallots, manchego cheese and truffle oil     19

Cattail Creek Farms Roasted Lamb Loin, leg of lamb and    grilled lamb sausage with fennel, caramelized onion, garlic,    kale, polenta and smoked tomato chutney  21

Tails and Trotters Farms Pork Loin on risotto with chanterelles, kabocha squash, celery root, leeks and goat cheese in red wine reduction       22

Grilled Chinook Salmon in soy-yuzu glaze and miso glazed cod with spinach, scallion, ginger, chili, sesame and unagi dumplings      23

Sauteed Breast of Duck with duck confit ramen, poached    farm egg, spinach, ginger, scallion and sesame      23

Braised Painted Hills Beef Short Ribs in red wine sauce with carrots, parsnips and potato-onion terrine potato       21

DESSERT

Rustic Apple-Pear Tart with pistachio ice cream and sawtooth lavender 6

Caramelized Banana with puff pastry, chocolate creameaux, peanut butter ice cream and brittle   6

Kin on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Jeremy Frowst says

    First, let me say that I have been reading your reviews
    since your days at the ‘O’ and I tend to agree with you, so I feel
    awkward writing this. My experience at Kin seems to have differed
    from yours in so many ways. For one, I did a little work on Mr.
    Shikami’s background and found that what you referred to as ‘chefly
    stints,’ in fact added up to a James Beard award and a couple of
    pretty outstanding restaurants in Chicago. I don’t feel as if
    anyone who had been lucky enough to receive a JBF, let alone so
    early in its awarding and who’s acumen for food would be called a
    ‘stint’ would appreciate that comment. However my experience does
    have some parallels to yours. The restaurant was sparsely
    patronized on my visits and it did add an echo; I still hear that
    echo. It whispers from the far corners of my mind. When I am able
    to taste everything in a dish and then look back at the menu and
    read EXACTLY what I just tasted it sticks to my brain. The richness
    of the risotto on my visit still brings me back and the fact that
    it changes every time I come back leaves me speechless. I could
    drone on about this and that, however, I feel I would be doing a
    disservice. Anyone who reads this review please take it with a
    grain of salt then go try this place out. If you feel like it was
    not worth the effort then come back here and let us all know
    because since trying his food I feel like Mr. Shikami has brought
    something wonderful to Portland’s table that you can taste and
    distinguish and for that I say, “Thank you.” Portland needed some
    grown up food.  

  2. says

    I have to say I was surprised to read this review.  My experiences at Kin have been very different from what is described here.  Kevin is a great chef with considerable experience and much recognition.  I agree with the commenter above that calling his previous experience “stints” is inaccurate and even insulting.  In addition, the food has been delicious every time I’ve been there — every course has been original, flavorful and memorable, from appetizers to dessert.  I hope anyone who reads this review will put it aside and go and try Kin for themselves.
     

  3. MAT says

    Roger, please keep up the good work.  I agree with your review.  Don’t be swayed by the Portland dining public which only likes what it is told to.  There is more to a good restaurant than a culinary background and pretty plates.  Thanks for keeping it honest.
     

    • Alvin says

      This comment confuses me. Are you suggesting that Kin is a well-liked restaurant? That doesn’t seem to be the case, from what I can tell. As the review mentions, its almost always empty…

    • Marshall Manning says

      Alvin, Kin used to have a lack of customers, but 1) that isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality, and 2) since the Oregonian review I’ve heard they’ve been much busier.  As I mentioned to Kevin (chef/owner), it was pretty easy to get into a lot of restaurants (Pigeon, Park Kitchen, etc.) before their initial reviews hit…just because many Portland diners aren’t adventurous enough to try new places until they get reviews doesn’t mean the places aren’t worthy.
      I’m in the wine business, and Kin is one of my accounts, so I don’t want to go overboard, but I think Kevin’s food is original, interesting and complex.  He’s not doing “smack you in the face” food, so if that is the style that people want, it may not be their favorite place.  His style seems to be more about balance, complexity and subtlety.  I realize that Food Dude isn’t able to do many reviews, but I would have liked to get his take on Kin, as we’ve compared notes over the years on many restaurants and I think he appreciates the style of cooking that Kevin does more than most.

    • FoodGroupie says

      @ MAT Yeah… I’m tired of being told that I need to eat and like free-range organically raised fresh (insert meat) and root vegetables cooked on a carbon-neutral range burning cow manure from a sustainable eco-farm so I can feel all good and virtuous and locavore-ish about myself.

  4. Tommy says

    MAT- By what qualification, exactly, are you entitled to discount the collective opinion of the entire Portland dining public? You’re more than welcome to agree with Roger, as well as to disagree with any of the rest of us. But many of us do not, in fact, like only what we’re told to, so please, try not to insult every last set of taste buds in the county with one broad stroke of your brush when doing so…

  5. Michelle says

    Kin is one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.  I am tired of Portlander’s alway cutting a chef down for trying something new.  The food is great, service amazing, and the place is beautiful.

  6. Martin L Schwartz says

    My wife and I love to eat out and greatly appreciate high quality restaurants.  We have now eaten twice at Kin.  It is our opinion it is a great addition to the Portland restaurant scene.  Not every dish has been exceptional.  However, most of our choices have ranged from very good to exceptional.  The duck breast is simply superb and as good or better than any other Magret de Canard which we have eaten in our 33 years of dining in Portland.  The beef short ribs are another outstanding entree.  Among the appetizers the tartare of tuna, the quail and the steamed buns with pork belly are superb. At worst we rate Kin an A- and strongly disagree with the B- given by your reviewer.
    Kin is a welcome addition to our favorite Portland restaurants which now include: Fin, Andina, Silk, Autentica, Gruner, Castagna and China Town(Bvn).

  7. McGovern says

    I respectfully submit that while I haven’t the culinary erudition of Mr. Porter I feel his review misses something crucial: the food at Kin is very delicious. I’m not a food critic but I eat out a lot and I’ve been going to Kin quite a bit of late: it’s because I like the food and cocktails there.

    While I acknowledge Mr. Porter’s (appropriate) critical impulse to understand a kitchen as an article of thought, I believe the thought is secondary to the articulation: of deliciousness. The bread pudding is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some. Eating a won-ton at happy hour is like biting into a miracle. If tomatoes are the stars of the earth, the smoked cherry tomatoes in the roasted pear salad are white dwarfs. I could go on but I’ll spare you.

    What I mean is read this review and feel educated but GO TO KIN and feel edified.

  8. BG says

    This place rocks and is one of the best meals we have ever had out. The fish was incredibly fresh, the shrimp and lobster were also the best in town, and the dishes were unique. What’s not to appreciate? Cacao!

  9. Jim says

    This is one of the best restaurants in Portland. Period. There is nobody else in the city doing what Shikami does with his ingredients. there are a bunch of very good restaurants – Pigeon, Little Bird, Beast, Lincoln – the list goes on – that are doing great food… but they are all similar.

    For creative genius that melds flavors from different culinary traditions, Kin nails it. I have lived in Asia for many many years, and what Mr. Porters comments tell is that he in no way shape or form understands Asian food, especially when it is married with the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. I have eaten at Kin five times over the last 5-6 months, as well as the above mentioned Portland icons. This is by far the most interesting and innovative new restaurant in Portland. In a less provincial city – New York? Chicago? LA? You wouldn’t be able to get a table without three months advanced notice. Wake up and taste greatness people.

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