August 17, 2006

Echo Restaurant

You know, there are places that are charming, where the folks are nice, and the prices are okay, and then you eat the food and it's a deep disappointment. Sadly, for brunch, Echo is one of these places.

Let's start with the restaurant itself: with brick walls and an insanely high ceiling, a beautiful wood bar, and some nice wood accents. Wood booths line the floor to ceiling windows. The atmosphere is cozy. The outside eating area is in a space between two buildings, with bamboo at the end that faces MLK, heaters, and homemade lanterns and a fountain. It manages to be shady and breezy and thoroughly pleasant.

When we went for brunch, there were two folks working the front of the house: the bartender, and a waiter. This was fine initially, but as the patrons started streaming in, they were in the weeds.

The menu is varied and inexpensive: biscuits and gravy, french toast, pancakes, eggs & meat, frittata, as well as small plates, salads and sandwiches, most in the $5.50-$8 range. Some of these things seemed to be different just to be different, like the french toast, made from zucchini-carrot bread in an orange juice-rum batter. We ordered a cup of coffee (a bad idea: stick with espresso or alcohol), the dos heuvos (2 eggs, bacon, potatoes or grits and biscuit or bagel) with grits and biscuit, and the frittata with salad.

While we waited for food, the staff kept our coffee and water glasses full. The water carafes have slices of cucumber floating in the water—nice.

About a half hour later, out came the food. The frittata was overdone, browned, on the outside, and too thin. The crab filling tasted fishy, and the hollandaise that topped it was gelatinous and had a muddy flavor. The accompanying salad was almost dry, with very little sign of a dressing, nonetheless balsalmic vinagrette.

The dos heuvos were good, cooked to order, though the biscuit was drier than dry and didn't really taste like anything. I opted for grits, which were made with a white sharp cheddar and thyme: my dining partner thought they tasted weird, but for me, they were the highlight of the meal, and some of the best grits I've had in Portland.

In the end, I think the recommendation that I've heard for dinner at Echo also applies to brunch: keep it simple and you're likely to be happy.

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