A really bad meal

8470177p1.jpgOkay, I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days. I’m not a food critic and I don’t want to bash a restaurant after only going there once. But when you take your wife to a special place on her birthday that is supposedly one of the elite Portland dining experiences and you have to surreptitiously spit food into your napkin twice, because it is so unappetizing, well, it just doesn’t seem right.

I’m speaking of the “legendary” Genoa (their quotes, not mine) on SE Belmont. They serve a 7-course meal for 80 dollars. There are a few choices on the main courses, but you basically have a very limited menu to pick from. I wasn’t really into the lack of options, but that’s what they do, so I’m not going to complain about that.

It’s just that almost every course was bland and just mediocre. At no point in the 7 courses did either my wife or I exclaim something to the effect of “wow, you gotta taste this”. In fact, we were more likely to sadly admit that it wasn’t worth sharing. It almost became comical. The courses are small and we left food on almost every plate for lack of interest.

The service was very good and it’s a nice intimate space. But for the price and the reputation, it was a major disappointment. Luckily, we were able to use a gift certificate to pay for the meals, but even so I feel ripped off. If I had had to pay over 200 bucks (including beverages) for such a unappealing dinner I would have been furious.

Again, I’m not a food critic and I don’t want to trash Genoa, we’ve only been there once and maybe they were having an off night. It’s just that a number of people have asked us excitedly how it was and we had to lamely reply that it was actually bad. The place has a really good reputation – how is that possible? I see some mixed reviews on CitySearch. Are they just stagnating, cruising on that reputation? Have they gone downhill in recent years? Has anyone had a good meal there recently?

18 Comments so far

  1. simeon (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

    I don’t have any opinion on Genoa, but I had a much better experience for the same type of meal. The place is called Grolla. It is located at NE Killingsworth & NE 29th. We chose the Chef’s Tasting which included five custom made courses and wine. The server will interview you for food concerns like allergies or vegetarian. Each course was excellent, and we enjoyed sharing. The whole thing was under $200. I’d recommend it for a date night of any kind.

  2. Pete Best (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

    I was wondering about that place. We’ve been to every other place on that corner: Yakuza, Autentica and, of course, Cup & Saucer – which are all great. That’s for the tip, we’ll check it out.

  3. brewcaster (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

    This is a problem my wife and I have been facing since moving to Portland. Finding good food. I know “you” have tons of favorites you can rattle off, but for the most part, I have found most places to be bland and over priced. And don’t get me started on service…. We are finding a few cheaper places that have amazing food compared to these overly hyped places.

    I am starting to think that food is a lot like art. Usually over priced, and surrounded by a lot of bullshit reviews.


  4. Adam (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

    I’ve eaten at Genoa a handful of times and found them to be very inconsistent… one time it’s AMAZING, the next it’s mediocre at best. I could never pin down exactly what the cause was, as I’ve been there with the same and different chefs. Overall, there are other places I’d go for a very fancy night out before I’d go to Genoa for that very reason. I wouldn’t write them off, but I also wouldn’t hurry back.

  5. The Guilty Carnivore (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

    Brewcaster, you need to speak up on what you’re looking for and what you’ve had that hasn’t met expectations. Do some posting and searching around on some of the Portland food sites, like Portlandfood.org. Like Adam mentioned, consistency is often an issue, but I don’t find this problem particularly endemic to Portland. I’ve had pretty mediocre food in many cities if not countries.

    I find it remarkable that you’ve found most things overhyped and not to expectations that you are ready to basically paint Portland with such a broad brushstroke. At PF.org and PortlandFoodandDrink.com hundreds upon hundreds of hardcore food aficionados collectively have a multitude of good experiences at any number of places around town.

    I’ve had some seriously excellent food all over Portland since I’ve moved here 5 years ago, some of it on the high end, but most of it on the low-end, including taquerias and Pho joints. It took some time, but things really crystallized in the last few years once I discovered the online resources and a vibrant group of diners who share their experiences.

  6. Gerry Van Zandt (unregistered) on December 31st, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

    Adam is very correct. Genoa is inconsistent. We’ve had “bar none” the best food there we’ve had in Portland, and we’ve had “so-so” meals there that are lacking, as Pete found.

    We go there probably once every 2-3 years and it’s generally a bit of a dice roll. We have better meals (more consistently) at other places around town, on both sides of the river. Some of them big-names, others small-names, and yet others that are undiscovered up-and-comers. You can never truly write Genoa off the map, however.

    Genoa is often quoted in national publications as being the creme of Portland restaurants, probably because it’s been around FAR longer than most of them.

    The big-name places in Portland (a la Wildwood, Higgins, City Grill, Paley’s Place and the list goes on endlessly) are all pretty good but as good or better food can be found for far less, elsewhere, if you look.

    Currently we’re very “into” places fairly close to home….Roux, Perry’s on Fremont, etc. I like the fact that I can approach Mr. Perry any time, and he’s there EVERY NIGHT until very late and has been doing this for many many years. People like this put their heart and soul into their businesses — something I sometimes find lacking in the “big name” places, particularly on the 21st/23rd strips….

  7. george (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

    if you don’t like portland food you are either eating at the wrong places or have tastes that differ from most everyone else.

    pretty solid town for 10-25 buck plates. better then NY or SF for sure at that price range. not sure what your expectations are…

  8. butch (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    The former owner/chef that made Genoa “legendary” sold the restaraunt and opened a new one on Souteast Powell – Nostrana.

  9. Pete Best (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

    I, too, find that Portland has pretty excellent food. Though I have found that I tend to enjoy the places that are sort of one notch below the super-hyped top ten restaurants.

    I also have a real problem with some of the over-the-top pretentious foodie menus I’ve encountered. It seems chefs are trying to outdo each other with the amount of obscure and cryptic dish descriptions. Maybe some people like that pompous shit, but it just annoys the hell out of me.

  10. george (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

    i think we both agree that the “sweet spot” is the sort of mid priced cuisine sort of place. i think lovely hula hands is a great example. $15 or so average plate.. great $9 burger. pretty straight up food.

  11. Pete Best (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

    Funny – Lovely Hula Hands came to mind as I was writing my comment. I haven’t been to the new location yet.

  12. george (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 2:22 pm


    so does anything look pompous on that to you?

  13. Pete Best (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    Sorry, I didn’t structure that comment very well. What I meant to convey was that Lovely Hula Hands is my idea of a place that gets it right. I really like them.

    With that said, I do find the following menu excerpts to be a little pretentious:

    • frisee with lardons
    • pumpkin butter
    • meyer lemon
    • terra madre olive oil
    • minted yogurt and harissa

    Don’t you?

  14. george (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    if they said, frisee aux lardons, that would have been pretentious. its a pretty normal french dish, not obscure. they even translated for us!

    pumpkin butter. thats pumpkin and butter.

    meyer lemons have a distinct taste, not really pretentious to identify them.

    terra madre is a step up from bottom basement olive oil. sort of vaguely pretentious, i mean, a good restaurant you assume they don’t use swill. but still..

    minted yogurt is just an identifier. up till a moment ago i had no idea what harissa is, but its a pretty normal sauce.

  15. Kevin (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

    I don’t think any of those are terribly pretentious, but I’m not crazy about the trend of putting the provenance of all the food on the menu: Carlton Farms pork, Draper Farms chicken, Strawberry Mountain ribeye, Nueske’s bacon, etc. etc.

    It reminds me a bit of the old show ‘Absolutely Fabulous,’ where Jennifer Saunders wore the blouse that said “LACROIX” in foot-high gold letters. Portlanders would (rightfully) giggle at that kind of brand-whoring, but it’s on nearly every menu in town.

    When a restaurant’s at a certain price level and reputation, I don’t expect it to be serving Sysco-truck crap. And I guess all this brand-naming of the food is supposed to reassure the diner, but it has the opposite effect on me; it makes me think the restaurateur doesn’t trust me to know quality from Kroger pressed ham product.

  16. Pete Best (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2008 @ 9:02 am

    Okay, but I still don’t know what a lardon is. The picture in my mind is being very very horny for Crisco…?

  17. Kevin (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2008 @ 10:56 am

    Lardons are little pieces of pork belly/bacon that are used to impart a lot of flavor without adding a lot of meat. It’s similar to tasso, the Southern smoked ham that’s used in jambalayas and gumbos, but tasso is made from pork shoulder instead of belly.

    Frisee aux lardons is a traditional French salad: frisee greens, topped with a poached egg and tiny lardons. When you hit the egg with your fork, the yolk dresses the frisee, and you have a nice salad that’s flavored intensely with bacon and eggs. Sounds fancy, but it’s a simple dish…and once you try it, you may indeed have hardons for lardons.

  18. Pete Best (unregistered) on January 4th, 2008 @ 9:28 am

    Well, Kevin, you might appreciate this. My last incredibly delicious meal was last month, courtesy of Galatoires in NOLA. Oh, baby….

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