This year, fine dining went rogue. Across Portland, ambition erupted in back rooms and at borrowed counters, where young chefs test-drive new models for high-end dining in a city that has willfully sidelined it. Each model is different: Thali Supper Club brings together the two ancient customs of elaborate regional Indian cuisine and BYOB; Nomadpdx combines a chef, a forager, a baker, and, yes, custom-made plates into wandering food meditations in 15 courses.
In the heat of summer, Factotum Dining tossed a surprise from deep left field: a tasting menu capable of raising a Michelin inspector’s eyebrows, created by two unknowns currently running the front of the house at Ataula. As they search for a brick-and-mortar space, beverage enthusiast Jon Tacinco and chef Patrick Mannion (trained at New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Chicago’s Alinea) host monthly dinners that hint at their dream: “elegant cuisine without the captains and army of waiters hovering around you.”
I found it on one evening in July, when Factotum Dining squatted in downtown’s Ración for the night. As the pair shared wine faves and foodie secrets, diners forked into refined modern food. Foie gras counterpunched with little screeches of pineapple, lime, and basil gave way to an entire landscape of lamb—sweetbreaded, osso-bucco-ed and loin-seared—alongside sweet bell pepper, yogurt, and eggplant reborn as flavor-intensive dots. The last bite arrived like a closing argument: pistachio cherry crumble, two ingredients precisely etched in ice cream, nut paste, candied crumbs, and glazed fruit. The whole thing melted into something sweetly unforgettable with help from the very thing that makes some diners run from modern food: science-lab crumbles, flavored here as pistachio snow. It makes a persuasive case for where fine dining might go in Portland, Oregon.