Welcome back to Week in Reviews. Portland's restaurant critics recently released three takes on Tusk and one review of Chesa. Here's what they had to say:
EAST BURNSIDE—The critics couldn’t wait to review Tusk, the seven-weeks-old restaurant that describes itself as “Middle Eastern.” The O’s Samantha Bakall calls Tusk "Portland's most beautiful salad bar” and says a piece of wheat flatbread "dragged through the hummus garden" with "intensely floral Aleppo chili oil might be Tusk's best bite.” Bakall then offers a reinterpretation:
Stop thinking of Tusk as a Middle Eastern restaurant. Sure, there's hummus and flatbread, Syrian spice, and a pair of cooks (including chef Sam Smith) who spent time at Zahav, the influential Philadelphia Israeli restaurant. But this second restaurant from Submarine Hospitality's Luke Dirks and Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene's) is far more Portland than Jerusalem.
EAST BURNSIDE—WWeek’s Michael C. Zusman also visited Tusk, declaring it “doesn’t live up to the hype” and suggesting the restaurant unsuccessfully tries to imitate Zahav. Regarding the mains on the menu, Zusman writes, “There was nothing offensive here, but nothing revelatory either.” But overall, the menu is “unambitious” and mostly “a senselessly homogenous list of uninspired but pretty salads.”:
The Middle East offers more than its fair share of pungent flavors, some of which are even mentioned on the menu. I can't figure out why the Tusk crew won't let them out to play.
EAST BURNSIDE—In her 2016 best new Portland restaurants coverage, PoMo’s Karen Brooks named Tusk one of two Rising Star Restaurants, for its vibe, a “shot of vitamin D, a breezy, glass-walled, feel-good-rocking California dream,” and “spiritually Middle Eastern, freethinking in form” approach to food:
The kitchen’s daily-changing salads, lamb tartares, and rose-petaled feta plates revealthe antidote to Portland’s usual blood sausage/mac and cheese gout aesthetic: healthy, visual, super-fresh, and super-local. Hummus is shockingly light, like garbanzowhipped cream. Oven-fresh whole-grain pita tastes like the missing link between buttered wheat toast and pizza char. Pig? It’s relegated to a mere three inches of a hibachi skewer. At Tusk, meat is but a nibble, a garnish.
NE BROADWAY—Brooks has dropped her review on Chesa, the new modernist Spanish tapas and paella restaurant opened by Ataula’s Jose Chesa and Cristina Baéz, and the review also mentions Chesa’s neighboring sister xurro and drinking chocoloate bar, 180. Brooks writes the paellas alone make “Chesa one of the year’s defining restaurants,” and while “not everything hits,” the “number of sheer must-eat dishes” is impressive:
Chesa plays with foie gras like Beck getting crazy with the Cheez Whiz, whipping foie mousse, improbably and fantastically, with caramel bananas, goat yogurt, and Spanish corn nuts. The juiciest pork on record [Iberico cochinillo roast suckling pig] arrived clad in a crust with the texture of Peking duck skin crossed with fried chicken, putting all other pig dishes on notice. (Also, those xurros next door at 180? We crowned them dessert of the year.)