If you live in Portland, and not under a rock, then chances are good you’ve either eaten at or heard of one of the Rose City’s most popular and well-acclaimed restaurants, Ox.
For over four years now, Ox has been treating visitors to its location on Martin Luther King Boulevard to some of the most innovative and tastiest Argentinian-inspired fare around. So, with Ox settled, owners Greg and Gabrielle Denton decided it was time to invade Downtown Portland.
Having already made a small Downtown footprint for themselves with Kask, their craft cocktail bar, the Dentons were determined to make their next establishment another world-class restaurant. Serendipity struck when the space next to Kask became available and the Dentons pounced. Thus, SuperBite was born.
An Innovation in Serving
Opened in April of this year, SuperBite occupies the space that had formerly been Chris Israel’s Grüner. Once they secured it, the Denton’s set out to create a specific theme for their new restaurant, as Greg explains.
“It was already a beautiful spot, but we wanted there to be a little bit more of an intimate vibe, so we opened it up a little bit, made it a bit more fun and interactive,” he says.
The method behind their redesign is apparent in their use of tile. The beautifully patterned Spanish tile lends a whimsical element to the interior. “We were going for a new wave, Paris bistro with Italian flair,” Greg says with a chuckle.
Though the open floor plan and eye-pleasing design were both important, there was another innovation that they have put on full display at SuperBite. “We have our cooks play sort of a dual role,” Gabrielle says. “Instead of just cooking the food, they also deliver it to the table and explain it to the guests.”
Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry is likely saying, “Hold the phone!” at this point. Fact is, many a chef would tell you the last thing they want to do is serve the food they are cooking, and yet the Dentons have found a measure of success with this strange new idea, though they’ve had to think outside the box.
“Logistically, there was definitely a challenge. How do we get them off the line so they can serve the food when they are cooking the food as well?” Greg rhetorically asks.
To get around this challenge, SuperBite is heavier in the back of the house. The cooks serve as the support staff, so there are no runners or bussers to assist the servers. One simple thing makes this setup palatable to the cooks. “They are in the pool when it comes to being tipped,” Greg says.
Obviously, this makes for a busy room. “Everybody is running the food,” Greg asserts. “The servers help, the managers help and we help. There’s just so many small plates coming out of the kitchen.”
Small Bites Reign Supreme At SuperBite
Speaking of small plates, at SuperBite, they’re the star. SuperBite aims to bring a culture of small bites and big flavors to Downtown Portland. “We wanted to section off the menu to start with small bites, really flavorful things, and then people can make better decisions on what they want to eat next,” Greg says.
Focusing on small plates allows SuperBite to pack a lot into a little menu. For those looking for a little comfort food to start off their evening, the diminutive bowl of truffle spaghettios might be just the thing. Perfectly cooked spaghettio noodles rest in a delectable cheese sauce made from Irish butter and Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Chives and shaved Italian summer truffles contribute to both presentation and taste. It’s a dish that’ll appeal to both the inner child and practical adult in you.
Another small plate sure to impress is the Dungeness crab with artichoke custard on an onion ring fried in a tarragon and mandarin batter. The crunch of the onion ring contrasting with the freshness of the crab will set your taste buds alight. A hint of tarragon provides the perfect finish on your palate.
Although small plates are the star, SuperBite leaves room for more filling fare. One such example is the grilled lamb T-bone. A sizable Reister Farms lamb t-bone sits atop in-house made fry bread with herbed feta yogurt, fresh heirloom tomatoes and sumac oil. Chopped Italian Castelvetrano olives provide a meaty, buttery finish to each bite.
Of course, no meal would be complete without an excellent cocktail. Here, SuperBite does not disappoint. The interestingly-named American Dream Sequence looks as good as it tastes. Composed of reposado Tequila, mole bitters, citrus and a raspberry shrub – which is a kind of drinking vinegar – it has a fruity, yet effervescent finish. The citrus leaf garnish with a bit of powdered sugar provides a lovely visual appeal to what is a very tasty cocktail.
With a prime location, SuperBite adds something unique to the Denton’s stable of properties. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. “I don’t know how chefs do it,” Gabi exclaims, “opening one restaurant a year.”
In their case, from what it looks like, the Dentons don’t need to. There’s nothing wrong with taking one’s time to make sure something great comes to fruition, especially when you’re also promoting a new cookbook.
With capable hands at Ox, the Dentons are free to spend a little extra time at SuperBite. And if the food and atmosphere is any indication, that little extra time looks to go a long way.
SuperBite is located at 527 W 12th Avenue in Downtown Portland. Their hours are 5:00pm – 10:00pm every day except Monday, when they are closed. For more information, they can be reached at 503.222.0979 or you can visit their website by going to www.superbitepdx.com.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, poet and longtime journalist who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. He currently works from his home in the Pacific Northwest profiling restaurants, reviewing local plays and reporting on regional, national and international travel.