Why would a restaurant that does everything right change almost all of it?
Pescados China Street won rave reviews and was named critics' favorite hot spot in Style Weekly's 2011 State of the Plate. Unfortunately, according to co-owner and chef Todd Manley, fresh seafood was too narrow and expensive for the neighborhood. So Manley engaged his staff in a re-branding effort, settling on a global, eclectic menu with a variety of prices.
Eat Oregon Hill maintains Pescados' décor and most popular menu items, but expands into new dishes. Seafood continues to be the main draw, while the other offerings are uneven in concept and execution.
The menu is divided into "eat small" and "eat large," as well as "eat your greens" and "eat your sweets." There's also an "eat any time" section, which I think confuses rather than clarifies the classification system. It's clear the chefs had fun creating the menu, shown by creatively prepared dishes such as carrots sous-vide and root beer air. Culinary influences extend beyond the Latin and Caribbean flavors of Pescados, with Moroccan, Southern and even Canadian dishes. The bar features innovative cocktails and house-made sodas worth trying. The servers are some of the best in town. Friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, they're consistently helpful with their suggestions and informed about the menu.
Of the small plates, the Pescados staple voodoo shrimp ($13) is excellent with its complex mix of flavors and textures. Shrimp and chorizo are cooked with rum, habanero and, a bit strangely, banana. Served in a small bread bowl and topped with a fried egg, it is an unusual but addictive mix of sweet and savory flavors with significant heat. The chicken pot pie ($8) is good, but the Moroccan chicken filling is too subtly spiced and is overwhelmed by the buttery crust and ginger-carrot purée. The ham and cheese ($7) — fried croquettes of manchego and jack cheese studded with chorizo — suffers from too-heavy breading and not enough chorizo.
On the "eat any time" menu, the theme seems to be midsized plates, though most are hearty enough for a full meal. I'm sorry I agreed to share the seafood enchilada ($15), which is astounding. The simple preparation of high-quality shrimp and crab cake is perfectly supplemented by caramelized onions and a mild red chili sauce.
Having lived in Canada for five years, I'm always thrilled to see poutine on the menu. The classic Quebecois dish of fries with cheese curds and beef gravy is given a twist at Eat with yucca fries and ground beef. The chuckwagon ($10), however, is missing the promised curds and drowning in beef and gravy. The yucca, which is mashed and re-formed to make an unusually creamy yucca fry, is substantial enough to stand up to the gravy, but the dish overall feels too heavy. The barbecue lettuce wraps ($12) are similarly disappointing. Advertised as ginger plum barbecue duck confit, the ginger and plum flavors are almost indiscernible, and the duck lacks a traditional confit flavor or texture.
The menu plainly states that the fish of the day dishes are the most popular, and out of everything I try at Eat, the arctic char special ($26) is the most successful. Perfectly cooked with crispy skin and delicate flesh, the char is paired with apple spoonbread, a nice complement to the natural sweetness of the fish. A sage-brown-butter sauce brings out earthy notes. Other dishes in the "eat large" section include shrimp and grits ($18) and a $30 rib-eye.
In three visits, every seafood dish I eat is excellent and has me planning return visits, while almost every nonseafood dish has some flaws. The decision to keep the best of Pescados was the right one, and I hope a few improvements to the rest of the menu will keep Eat Oregon Hill a neighborhood staple serving creative and inspiring food.
Eat Oregon Hill
626 China St.
Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m.