There's two reasons I've been hesitating to write this post. One, I've had two restaurants before, so I have sympathy for how hard it is to make it. Two, I've tended to only write up good experiences, not bothering to mention the less than stellar meals I've had around town. But after a recent experience at Portland's relatively new DOC, I think I'm changing my approach for two more reasons. One, I've had two successful restaurants, so I know how easy it is with the proper commitment and care to put out quality food. Two, I would hate to think of anyone, especially in these troubled economic times, spending a not insubstantial amount of money (as we did at DOC) and have a less than satisfactory experience.
I went there recently with four other friends. We are all very good cooks, eat out way more than is probably fiscally or physically responsible, and bring relatively informed palates to the table (one of us is one of Portland's most respected current chefs). I like walking into DOC, where unusually and I think interestingly you walk through the kitchen into their charming little dining area just beyond. We opted for their five course tasting menu (for $50 each), thinking this would be the best way to taste the full range that the kitchen has to offer. We ordered a couple of bottles of wine off of their well chosen list to complement the two we had brought along feeling good about the night ahead. Unfortunately those feelings didn't last long. From the salad starters through to the desserts, there was maybe two bright spots. The salads in general were uninspired, lacking any real distinction. The risotto that came as a primi course totally lacked the creaminess that you would normally expect from a properly made version. Like they put it on the stove and didn't bother to stir it at all. The other primi of gnocchi was overdone and heavy, with a too sweet sauce that was also evident in one of our entrées. Both seemed the result of having too many things going on in one dish. A classic example...like the troubling bacon infused bourbon at Belly Timber...of just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. The final nail in dinner coffin was one of two desserts we had, supposedly a Yogurt Panna Cotta on a Huckleberry Reduction. Picture a plate of huckleberries in their juice, which were fine, but instead of a jiggly, somewhat geometrically shaped cylinder or square of panna cotta one would expect, apparently the pastry chef, and by extension head chef Greg Perrault who stands right next to him, was content to just spoon liquid yogurt over the top of the berries and send that mess out. And not one, but two servings...incredible!! If your panna cotta didn't set up, don't send it out like your customers don't know any better. And if it is the pastry chef who doesn't know any better...or worse, doesn't care....then get a new pastry chef. I mentioned it to our waiter who didn't seem too concerned but did offer to have something else made, but by then all confidence in the kitchen was shattered and we just wanted to leave.
So we did, feeling like we had just wasted $90 each (including tip). I've heard similar stories from other friends (again, people who would know what's good and what isn't). With so many other reasonable, reliable places to choose from (and if you want an incredible tasting menu check out Park Kitchen), it seems DOC needs someone to right the ship that is apparently veering way off course.