Thursday, January 26, 2017

EVO Kitchen & Bar Review

It's difficult to come to you with seemingly trivial praise for a local restaurant when the news is a parade of awfulness brought about by our new Cheeto-in-Chief. But one cannot maintain this level of anger and anxiety for four years—the risk of burnout is real. While that's not to offer an excuse for checking out if you aren't checked in in the first place, self care is necessary in order to continue to fight against the fear and prejudice espoused by our upper administration. 

So continue to call your representatives, donate your time or money to organizations, and do something kind for a neighbor or friend. But relax for a few minutes, enjoy these pictures of beautiful food, and do something nice for yourself today—ideally something that also supports a local business, since we've got the greatest chance to make a difference in our own communities. 

(Side note: can I just add that writing the above was hard for me? I'm much more comfortable with straightforward food talk or snark. But I need to be honest and part of that is getting used to being uncomfortable. After all, no one promised us that life would be 100% comfortable all the time...from discomfort comes learning. Now back to food!) 

Seared tuna with ginger, scallion, pepper relish and an avocado garlic sauce

So, EVO. For some reason, I had an unfair "meh" feeling about EVO, despite never having set foot in the place. From the outside, it seemed kind of corporate, due to its proximity to the new Hyatt (even though the businesses aren't related) and I've grown tired of the trend of small, expensive plates of food. 

Combined with a few mixed reviews after its opening, EVO hadn't earned a spot on my "must try" list. Just like you, when I do have the money to go out to eat, I don't want to risk it on a place that may deliver mediocre experience, hence my tendency to stick with a rotation of "tried and true" favorites. 

But I ended up really loving EVO, and while the cost of the small plates can add up quickly, I had some solid, delicious food that makes me want to pay the diminutive restaurant a visit again soon.

Brussel sprouts with butternut squash and a tahini shmear
The seating on the first level of EVO is all bar seating, either along the kitchen or the window facing the street. It's great for people watching, whether that's passersby or the kitchen staff—since the kitchen is completely open and about the size of a walk-in closet. The second floor, a lofted space over the kitchen, is obscured from view from both the street and the restaurant below, so if you're seeking more intimate space (or if you're in a larger party and don't want to sit in a row), then request a table upstairs.

EVO's menu is Lebanese, which has become well-represented in Portland recently, between TIQA, CN Shawarma/Baharat, and Falafel Underground.

Jerusalem artichoke soup
We started with the tuna, which I probably would have passed over had my dining companion not suggested it. Like...tuna, ginger, scallion, we get it. But there's a reason it's so prolific—it's damn good, and EVO's is no exception. The spicy relish topping and quinoa chips were a nice contrast to the soft tuna.

The cream of sunchoke soup also played around with texture, the pickled sunchoke slices and crunchy crumbs (of what, I forget) topping an impossibly creamy, rich soup. The Brussels sprouts salad's tahini dressing emphasized the nuttiness of the seared vegetables beautifully presented on the ceramic dish.

Another hit was soft gnocchi, tossed with assertively spiced lamb sausage, peppery arugula, garlic, and butternut squash. I wanted to take a deep dive into a bowl of cubed potatoes, chorizo, and a poached egg—a dish that also appears quite at home on the menu at the newly offered Sunday brunch.

Gnocchi with lamb sausage, squash, arugula
Potatoes with chorizo and egg, topped with egg foam 
The scallop dish didn't receive its proper due, since I was quickly becoming very full. But these scallops replace in my heart the one we lost at Ebb & Flow when it closed. At EVO, the perfectly seared scallops are paired with potatoes three ways—in roasted cubes, pureed and in fritters with lemon and dill.

You can see from the portion of the scallops that the "small plates" can actually be rather large, making dinner at EVO one you don't have to worry about coming away hungry from.

Scallops with potato fritters and purée
I managed to make room for a scoop of baklava ice cream, which, while I loved the baklava itself, pieces of it throughout the ice cream made it seem icy rather than smooth and creamy, like you'd expect.

All in all, EVO was a hit. Even if you still see EVO as a special occasion place, stop in for one of their speciality cocktails and sample a dish. I bet it'll win you over, just like it did me.

Note: EVO will be closed to update their ventilation system from January 29th until February 2nd. The existing system had created some complaints about the smell/air quality in the restaurant, so they're upgrading it.

Baklava ice cream
EVO Kitchen & Bar | 443 Fore Street, Portland | (207) 358-7830
Dinner at 5PM, Sunday brunch 10AM-2:30PM, closed Mondays

Disclosure: I was treated to this meal, but the opinions and words expressed in this post are my own. 

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