"I just signed on for 10 years of identity crisis," says Jamie Dunn, who recently opened the Gilt Club with fiancée Cyndi Challacombe. "We’re actually a restaurant. We just feel like a bar."
Strip-club name and full bar aside, Dunn hopes to court a following of serious foodies, not refugees from the Bada Bing. Since leaving behind his oft-lauded Technicolor Kitchen in Chicago, which made the Chicago Tribune’s top 10 new restaurants list in 1999, Dunn has spent the last three years in Portland as a part-time snowboarding instructor, scoping the food scene before shredding it up with a place of his own. Now he hopes the Gilt Club will fill a niche he finds vacant in Portland: upscale food for evening diners, with the same full menu open into the wee hours for service industry folks.
Executive chef Paul Irving’s brief is thus elegance without the flash, leaving him plenty of room to experiment. "We’re still trying to think of a way to describe our food that’s not a paragraph long," Dunn says. The fresh, seasonal menu veers from a boneless chicken leg with a Sicilian sweet-sour sauce to black cod over a chorizo stew with smoky paprika–but it maintains its strong Pacific Northwest roots throughout.
Dunn may be a snowboardeur, but as a restaurateur, he’s no poseur.