La-Dee-Dah and Delicious

New Saucebox chef wows media freeloaders

By Alexis Rehrmann February 11, 2009

It’s 9:56 in the morning. It’s been nearly 15 hours since I chowed down on the crunchy rice cracker crusted ahi tuna that was part of last night’s media event at Saucebox.

What I want to know is: when can I start ordering this for breakfast? And is it unseemly to wait at the front door, conveniently located around the corner from, Portland Monthly’s offices, until they open at 4:30 this afternoon?

Last night, a gathering of press folk was treated to a tasting menu prepared by Gregory Gourdet, who’s been rattling pots and pans at Saucebox for the last few months.

Here’s what you need to know:

Between his 1980s retro-fabulous glasses frames, short-cropped faux-hawk, and white chef’s coat, Gourdet, 33, is the very picture of hipster sophistication. Plus, he cooks—really, really, well.

Brooklyn-born Gourdet worked at the ultra fancy, Jean Georges in New York City, and made his way to Portland about a year ago. He manned the burners at Urban Farmer, before moving to Saucebox, where he’s been slicing and dicing for the past few months and learning the existing menu. During this time, he’s tinkered with improvements to Saucebox standards, adding a level of flavor complexity and refinement that springs from the French tradition of Jean Georges. He’ll also introduce culinary creations of his own.

Gourdet’s personal favorite, he said last night, after emerging briefly from the kitchen to take a bow for his fine work, was the modestly titled warm local tofu. It’s an existing menu item that he’s hot-rodded up with crunchy vegetables and toasted chili oil.

We dug the tofu too, and appreciated the nod to healthy living, but the table chatter came to an abrupt halt after the arrival of the crispy chicken wings seasoned with seven spices and citrus. There was far too much flavor to savor to waste time on idle banter.

Happily, Saucebox will keep those menu items that we have come to rely on, including, Korean style baby back ribs and roasted Javanese salmon.

Can we talk briefly about cocktails? At what point is too many ingredients, simply too many ingredients?

The Jade Scorpion: muddled Thai basil, Thai chili-ginger vodka, lemon-lime, grapefruit, and ginger brew is so good—shut up—so damn good that my head just about pops off as I recall its fiery splendor. True, the Petronas: kaffir-lime gin, grated ginger, lime zest, rosé of pinot and peach bitters sounds like a lifetime’s worth of bad spring break decisions squeezed into one martini glass, and I still have a tiny shame hangover. I’m pretty sure that my drained cup did not end with a call to Girls Gone Wild, and yet I feel kind of…dirty.

I have yet to isolate the crucial ingredient that tips the Saucebox cocktail balance from tasty to total system collapse, but I intend to pursue my research with renewed diligence.

Pony up, people! What are we ordering next?

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