Watch the folks, forget the food
Lush sports classy clientele and dandy drinks, but the menu could stand a major overhaul
Sitting at one of the tables in the foyer of Lush on a Saturday night provides some of the best weekend entertainment around. Why leaf through the pages of Cosmopolitan or Lucky when you can see Portland fashionistas strutting the latest 'Sex and the City' garb in the flesh?
Of course, it's a bit drafty in the area near the door, but unless you can score one of the curtained booths, it's the best seat in the house. For all of Lush's efforts to create stylish environs, most of the seating is uncomfortable. The low-slung, window-front booths are tricky to maneuver, and a strange anteroom outfitted with squat stools not only sequesters diners from the action but also leaves them with aching backs.
These feng shui offenses are just a few of the hindrances to having a satisfying meal at Lush. The most glaring trespasses occur in the kitchen, where cooks mangle perfectly good ingredients. From pink, undercooked chicken mousseline to overcooked pork tenderloins that are anything but tender, most dishes at Lush disappoint. Limp vegetable capellini tastes like water; fried calamari is chewy and bland; sweet potatoes lend the gnocchi appetizer a decent flavor but are nonetheless leaden. The list goes on.
The kitchen could improve some offerings simply by determining the proper cooking times. But other problems stem from the menu itself, which is pretentious and unimaginative. It begs, borrows and steals from Italy, France and Southeast Asia but fails to either reproduce old standards or create exciting interpretations of them.
Lush's single culinary triumph is the dessert course. When well-executed, individual mint chocolate cheesecakes and key lime pies arrive, elegantly plated and delicious, it's like you've been transported to a completely different restaurant.
And the neon green martini glass that hangs over Lush's entrance serves as a clue: The popular nightspot turns out fantastic cocktails. There's no question that expertly mixed drinks are Lush's calling card. Unfortunately, its other liquids are not as lovely. Wines by the glass are overpriced, middle-of-the-road selections. On one occasion, we were served a glass of Spanish red that had nearly turned to vinegar.
In a short time, Lush Ñ with its street-level dining room and downstairs hedonists' den Ñ has established itself as a premier see-and-be-seen destination among the Tiger Bar-Bar 71 crowd. Most people admittedly come for reasons other than the food. But it's a shame that it is ignoring an opportunity to invent a fun menu to match the bar scene.
Lush would do well to follow in the footsteps of XV, which initially tried to be a serious Caribbean restaurant as well as a hip watering hole. Less than a year after opening, XV smartly switched from a dinner menu to one that is mostly appetizers. They're just the thing for nibbling on, sharing and making you thirsty for a drink.
For now, since the food holds little allure, it's a good thing the booze and human window dressing at Lush are so attractive.