Jake Martin—the executive chef of Genoa who's known for his inventive and modern take on the storied Belmont restaurant's Italian fare—is poised to make another splash in Portland’s dining scene. For more than four years, Martin has been dreaming up a way to marry the experience of fine dining with the chilled-out vibe that defines much of the city's food scene. Martin’s dream will come to fruition with the launch of Daphne, an 11-course pop-up dinner series that he’s co-created with Levant sommelier Christopher Sky. Daphne will launch at Langbaan (PaaDee's new back-room restaurant) with a kick-off dinner scheduled for April 7, and we sat down with Martin for a preview of what to expect.
What’s the story behind Daphne? I wanted something that has the same caliber of food and wine as some of the fine dining establishments—but without so much formality. Without so much dazzle. I want a place where you think it’s casual until you get the food and the wine and then it’s fantastic. Portland is kind of lacking that right now. There should be something that serves the style of food that you can get at the upper-end places but that has the atmosphere of something more fun…something bright. With upbeat music. I think it’s the next step in fine dining. People don’t want to be intimidated by formality in their fine dining experiences anymore and so we want to offer them something different.
Tell us about your co-creator, Christopher Sky. I’ve been really fortunate to meet a lot of people in this town that I share the same philosophies with. And I’m really looking forward to doing this with them. I’ve known Christopher since he was this 20-year-old barback in Seattle. We lost touch for a little bit, but I went to dinner at Levant and he’s the som there and we just started talking. It was awesome. We had all the same ideas and thoughts on how restaurants should be and how they are. It was great—so we set a date. We starting thinking about a menu. Christopher has wine pairings in the works. And now we’re just waiting to do it.
Where’d you come up with the name ‘Daphne’? It’s a flowering plant. Actually, it just started blooming about two weeks ago, and you can smell it from like a block away. It’s not the prettiest thing on the planet, but it’s just so aromatic. I like this idea of knowing that something cool is coming because you can smell it in the air.
What can diners expect out of their dining experience? And, similarly, what can they not expect? As far as the feel we’re going for, we want it to be light, bright, and convivial. And clean. I don’t want anything to be hidden. I just want it to be comfortable. But the cool thing about pop-ups is that you’re really focused solely on the food, the wine, and the service. You’re not necessarily even looking at the space. Because it’s not our space. So you can really concentrate on the focal points that we’re trying to showcase here: impeccable food, wine, and service. It seems like a lot of times, fine dining service is too detached…but that’s why you’re here. It’s the hospitality industry, above and beyond anything else. And I think people lose sight of that sometimes and it’s a shame.
Tell us what we really want to know. What’s the deal with the food and wine? We’ll have 11 courses and 9 wines that change with the seasons. There’s very little gluten on the menu so Celiacs can knock themselves out. However, there is a good bit of meat and dairy so people should be aware of that. I’ve been calling it a progressive American restaurant, but I guess that’s kind of bullsh*t. I mean when you think of America as a country, we’re a whole bunch of cultures rolled into one messy thing. So we want to use cooking techniques and ingredients and philosophies from as many different cultures as we can find. On this [April 7] menu, we’ve got Asian influence, Middle Eastern influence, French, Italian, Spanish... And I think that in giving ourselves a totally generic classification it lets us do whatever we want. And Christopher will be pouring everything from sparkling, white, rose, orange, red, sake, and sherry.
What’s it like in the back of the house? What’s the vibe, the music, the scene? Oh, it’s so embarrassing the music we listen to. There’ll be some 90s alternative on Pandora. Some Taylor Swift. I make them listen to that. We all have pretty different tastes in music. The kitchen’s also going to be a bit smaller than what I’m used to working in. It’s just three and a half of us back there. But I think that the way our kitchen works is going to be similar to how the whole restaurant is going to work. It’s the kind of thing that like we’re dedicated to what we do and we take it very seriously. But at the same time, while we’re putting all of this stuff together and working with these super nice ingredients, we’re back there being horribly inappropriate. So it’ll be like this mash up of precision and grab-ass, which I think is important and needed. You can’t have one without the other.
How do we get in on the fun? The first dinner in the series is taking place on April 7 in Langbaan, the new tasting room of PaaDee. Tickets are $125, which includes 11-courses of food (plus treats!), 9 unique wine pairings, and gratuity. Also, $10 of every ticket is going to this really great charity called Earth, Art, and Agriculture, which teaches kids the benefits of growing your own food. I want to make sure that we support the community that supports us—that’s something that’s really important to me to maintain if and when Daphne the restaurant opens.