Portland’s most exciting new wine list is a sheet of paper 150 bottles deep in value-driven finds: a stash of Loire Valley discoveries, Sicilian gems, and that Piedmontese producer with one great plot. Even a $30 bottle arrives with a set of rare, hand-blown Zalto glasses. NASA couldn’t imagine more cosmic, weightless vessels, each priced like caviar. It all adds up to a wine nerd’s paradise, built with rigor and ambition—but without a drop of pretension, delivered by a guy in cargo shorts. You’d be happy to find these choices, these glasses, in a New York food temple, let alone a humble house of seasonal cooking on East Burnside.
At Davenport, a 39-seat space that opened last November, you’ll find two guys doing what they love and hoping someone will show up. In the kitchen, Kevin Gibson, veteran of Castagna and cult diner Evoe, is Portland’s patron saint of simplicity. While other chefs dream of modernism’s edible branches, Gibson cooks with stripped-down clarity, elegantly uncontrived. He’s always in the kitchen, bonding with his produce. Co-owner Kurt Heilemann curates that informed wine list, but can’t really articulate its principles beyond saying that he crafts “a framework for Kevin’s food. I have faith in him; you can trust his flavors.”
Heilemann’s modesty captures Davenport’s ethos, expressed best by a menu that reads like a mood ring of the season: ever-changing soups and salads, braised meats and local fish, polished with attention to detail and Old World sentiment. Behold Gibson, in the groove: a French dream of duck confit, cloaked with brussels sprout leaves, steamed and sautéed to order, and fall’s bling: pomegranate seeds. His Spanish stew shows just how satisfying food can be when you can actually taste everything—not just the clams and tingly chorizo, not just the earthy liquor extruded from simmered tarbais beans, but Italian parsley, treated as a true ingredient in its own right. You can raise a Zalto glass to that.
Kurt’s Guide to Drinking With Kevin's Food
The dish: Gibson’s scallops, “pan-seared just right and served over a bed of raw, shaved porcini”
The wine: “I head straight for the wines of French producer Bernard Gripa, which have all the richness and texture of a great Rhône white, just more light on their feet. The 2011 Saint-Péray Les Pins is a current favorite, and a great start or finish to any meal.”
The dish: Duck breast—”hot, juicy, medium-rare”
The wine: “You want the 2010 Menetou-Salon Les Renardières Rouge, an old-vine bottling that shows how lovely pinot noir in the Loire Valley can be. Bright red fruit takes center stage, but the underlying savory and herbaceous notes make this more than a one-trick pony.”
The dish: Cabbage rolls, the Gibson way: “stuffed with pork, chestnuts, and apples”
The wine: “This dish is the ideal balance between refinement and comforting warmth—just right for the wines of Mount Etna.... The 2011 vintage was a powerful one, but not without finesse. The volcanic soils add a beautiful minerality and dark power that reminds me of a bigger, rougher-edged sibling to Burgundy.”