This review has taken me weeks to write. Words have been slow in coming; I have struggled considerably to characterize this place both fairly and honestly. The issue here is that I’m a pretty critical diner–that’s why i fashion myself a ‘food critic’ of sorts in the first place–but it is important for me to remember that generally, i’m a Super Critical Dickhead (SCUD). My italian friend dan and I are co-captains of the starting squad, which is obvious to anyone who knows us personally–everywhere we roll, we represent the crew.
I bring this up because when I went to Vindalho, I was wearing my SCUDs ‘Don Rickles #51’ throwback jersey. The question is, however, whether the following mean-spirited, vitriolic criticism is earned, or just straight from the depths of my cold, black heart.
This is not to say I didn’t have a good time, because I enjoyed myself very much; its just that I left hating this restaurant.
“Ok, gastronaut” you’re thinking “put up or shut up. if you’re going to hate on a new restaurant, they better deserve it.”
I walked into Vindalho around 8 on a friday night. the joint was packed–standard portland restaurant policy is no reservations, since most places are convinced long waits create ‘buzz’ and holding table for no-shows is suicide in small markets– so I jostled in to a barstool waiting for my dining partner. The space is in a new Windemere stripmall…i mean development just on Clinton, west of ‘Clinton’ across from the building painted like a Mondrian canvas . Anyway, the spot takes up 2000 square feet or so, with expansive floor to ceiling windows and dramatic light fixtures illuminating the bar and eating area that forms an ‘L’ around the open kitchen. They’ve decided against a ceiling, leaving the ductwork necessary for the hoods in the kitchen exposed. Gee howdy, that’s a lot of dusting. Atop the kitchen is a loft which adds about 15 tables to the total. All in all, it’s a one of those over-designed ‘under-designed’ spaces some designer will gloat about for a few years.
I have always appreciated well designed restuarant spaces, especially when there is some confluence between the atmosphere and the food. I guess this is because when I notice a connection between design and food, i’ve effectively judged the proverbial book by its cover, correctly. ‘Confluence,’ as I call it, never guarantees a good restaruant: just as Applebees hustles hard and fails to recreate classic american cooking, the schlocky shit on the walls also fail to convince you of its classic american pedigree. Vindalho succeeds in sleek, sexy design that appeals to the NW dining masses; it also succeeds in dumbing down–perhaps more fairly, ‘muting’– the flavors of the ‘spice route’ for mass consumption by well dressed but squemish diners of the NW.
That is the essence of it–they use the words and spices of Indian food, and even some methods, but the end product reminded me of nothing near indian food. Yes, the food was completely palatable, and the service good (if a bit oratorical), but I was ultimately disappointed that in a city completely devoid of really great Indian food, we get a restaurant that stinks of market research. It will be happy to succeed without my patronage, I’m sure. Their target market certainly isn’t the person searching for fiery curries, spicy vindalhos or proper idli.