Restaurant reviews are inherently problematic. With so many dishes on the menu at many restaurants, it's almost impossible to give a fair assessment of the breadth of food a place offers. Restaurants have their good days and their bad days. As a writer, it's hard to take one visit and one dish as a complete representation of what a place has to offer. To do it right, you really need to revisit a place over a long period of time, sample many of their dishes and see how they do.
With sites like Yelp, Facebook and Twitter, there is also a need for instant coverage. I know when a place opens its doors, I want to know RIGHT AWAY if it's good or not (as unreasonable as that is). So, in an effort to strike a middle ground and try a little something different, we decided to launch a new style of food review. Rather than giving a holistic view that sums up a place, we're going to review a dish. We'll try to hit both new restaurants and ones that have been around a while, the hope being that we'll discover some good dishes and help cross some not-so-great ones off the list to help narrow things down to the real winners on a menu.
Ate-oh-Ate is a new Hawaiian cafe from some of the braintrust behind Laurelhurst Market and Simpatico. Orders are taken at a walk-up window. Here is what we ordered:
Island Burger – hamburger topped with crispy pork belly, avocado, shoyu, shredded iceberg, and shaved onion for $9.00. The dish came with the a choice of macaroni salad, green salad or taro chips. We chose the taro chips. We added a ginger beer to the mix for a lunch total of $11.50.
Pork belly, pancetta, bacon – pretty much anything related to the fatty underbelly of the pig – is hot stuff in Portland and I couldn't resist trying out a Hawaiian "Island Burger" topped with pork belly. When the Island Burger was served I was shocked at just how huge the two slabs of pork belly are. The pork belly was actually thicker than the hamburger patty itself. Since I now subscribe to the "there's never too much bacon" camp, I was excited to dig in and give this burger a try.
My first bite of the burger was all pork belly. Well cooked, but completely dominating, the pork belly fat obliterated almost every other flavor in the Island Burger. I hardly detected any avocado or shoyu, and the onion and shredded iceberg imparted more crunch than flavor. The bun was well toasted and managed to hold it all together – tasty, but again, it struggles with the pork belly.
It was a real shame to not really taste the hamburger patty underneath the slab of pork belly. The patty looked good but was cooked well done. I didn't get much char flavor from it even though I could see the char. As I worked my way through the burger I did eventually taste the onion flavors shining through – perfectly and thinly cut, but still mostly overtaken by the pork belly.
I appreciate the generous use of pork belly in the Island Burger, but everything else needed to be stepped up to balance it out – a bigger patty, more onions, and perhaps having the shoyu and avocado on top might have really made the difference. As it stands, the burger feels like a pork fat sandwich. Perhaps, if the pork fat had more flavor to it, it wouldn't have been as much of an issue, but it lacked the real smoky, sweet flavor of bacon or pancetta.
The taro chips which accompanied the burger were delicious. Thin cut and fried to crispy perfection, they were a perfect companion to the burger. The check coming to $11.50 for the burger, chips and a drink felt a couple of bucks too high for a walk up and order restaurant, but not obscenely so. The person who took my order was super friendly and my burger was served in about 6-8 minutes.
I'd definitely give Ate-oh-Ate another shot, but I doubt I'll be ordering the Island Burger again.
Ate-oh-Ate is located at 2454 E. Burnside St., Portland, OR (503)445-6101
Open Daily 11am-9pm