When Chels and I stayed at the River’s Edge Hotel & Spa in August, we were invited to dine at the hotel’s neighboring restaurant, Aquariva. When I say we were invited, I mean that in a couple of ways. First, our package at the River’s Edge included a 20% coupon for lunch or dinner at the restaurant, and secondly, the restaurant’s entrance is literally about 50 feet from the front door of the hotel, making it almost ridiculously convenient. Realistically, the proximity of the establishment makes it something of a default choice, especially for a hotel that isn’t located in the heart of downtown – frankly, there aren’t a lot of other choices within walking distance. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it simplifies the occasionally laborious dining decision making process, the restaurant is classy and modern, and the ability the simply stroll across the parking lot to eat is both convenient and relaxing.
Aquariva features two different outdoor dining experiences. For happy hour, there’s a small patio to the left of the front entrance. It doesn’t feature much of a view, but it’s outdoors and pleasant nonetheless. The second is behind the restaurant, directly on the Willamette River. In fact, the only separating your table from the river is the jogging path that winds along the river behind both the hotel and the restaurant. The setting is idyllic, and while Portland may see more than its fair share of rain, in August it’s a lovely spot. While we didn’t dine indoors, we walked through the dining room several times. It’s modern, clean, and classy.
We dined with Aquariva twice during our stay, and I’ll address the experiences separately, as they were very different. The first time was in the evening. We arrived about 30 minutes before our reservation, and asked if we could wait for a riverside table in the happy hour area. We had drinks and a marvelous cheese plate while we waited. Upon being escorted to our table, which was in a beautiful and private alcove on the south side of the building, we discovered that we were sharing our server with an enormous party of some kind – it looked like perhaps it was a baby shower. At any rate, the party numbered probably 25 people, and was setup in a side yard about 30 feet from our table. The point of my pointing this out is this: the party needed a dedicated server. Because our server was, understandably, distracted by the huge party he was handling, our service was excruciatingly slow. Though the gentleman assisting us was kind, courteous, and knowledgeable, we just never had his attention for very long, and this impeded our enjoyment of the experience.
I ordered the brisket, and Chels ordered the duck breast. Both entrees were nicely prepared and plated, but neither took our breath away quite the way we were hoping. The brisket was, perhaps not surprisingly, heavy, but made more so by the fact that it was sitting in a pool of equally heavy mashed potatoes. It was good, but I wouldn’t order it again. Chels’s duck was, in a way, similar, rich and heavy. Duck is rich by nature, of course, but we both came away with a feeling, not of disappointment, but not of exhilaration either. And, as you know, we like to be exhilarated by our food!
Thinking that perhaps we had made poor menu selections and had a one-off experience with our server, we decided to return the following morning for the restaurant’s publicized “Sunday Brunch.” Oh, the ways in which I am glad we did…
Our brunch at Aquariva was a completely different experience than dinner the night before. We were seated, again, on the riverside patio, able to enjoy a marvelously sunny Sunday morning. Our server was fantastic. She was attentive, funny, and informative, checking in with us just often enough to make us feel cared for, but not so often that it interrupted our conversation or made us feel rushed (this is a fine art, as many of you know). Chelsia ordered the crunchy French toast with toasted hazelnut and oat crusted brioche and a vanilla cherry compote. I’ve never had better French toast in my life, and if you read Catz, you know I am something of a French toast fanatic. I had the sausage and pepper omelette, with fennel sausage, peppers, gruyere, caramelized onions, potatoes, and toast, and, again – what a treat. Truly a spectacular combination of flavors. Brunch completely changed our opinion of the restaurant.
Will we go back? Probably, when the opportunity presents itself. Certainly, we would return for brunch, but we would also be curious to give the dinner menu and service another shot. Given the sensational caliber of the brunch, I have to imagine dinner can provide a better experience than we had. At the end of the day, if you’re staying at the River’s Edge, you’d be silly to not at least try a meal at Aquariva. Enjoy!
0455 SW Hamilton Ct.
Portland, OR 97239