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Common Law partners Patrick McKee and Earl Ninsom.

Eat Beat has learned that chef Patrick McKee, who helmed iconic French-Northwest spot Paley’s Place for four years, is getting a platform for his own border-crossing cuisine at the slavishly anticipated Pine Street Market food hall. He will open Common Law, a 13-seat lunch and dinner spot focused on European-meets-Asian dishes—from beef tongue banh mi to braised oxtail with potato gnocchi—this December. The chef’s secret weapon? Financial backer, friend, and food sounding board Earl Ninsom of Langbaan.

McKee, who left Paley’s in early 2015 and spent most of this year fine tuning the Laurelhurst Market kitchen with his former Paley’s compatriot Ben Bettinger, says he’d been searching for “what’s next” when his longtime friend Ninsom floated the idea of a small eatery in Pine Street, based on the eclectic fare of McKee’s that emerged during the tail end of his Paley’s stint and during personal dinners. Ninsom, meanwhile, is working on yet another concept, Hat Yai, on Northeast Killingsworth, with bartender-about-town Alan Akwai.

“Earl is the financial backer, and the rest of the food and concept comes from me—it’s sort of a common law marriage,” McKee laughs. “That’s where we got the name. Earl’s given me a huge opportunity to have my own voice in the Portland food scene.”

What’s that voice sound like so far? McKee rattles off dishes, excitement coursing through his sentences. Lunch is his main focus right now, with plans for takeout window sack lunches packed with beef tongue banh mi topped with fried egg (a mash up of McKee’s love of his mom’s braised tongue and Ninsom’s favorite Bangkok street sandwich) or grilled veggie sandwiches with house made herbed ricotta. Also, house chips, fresh squeezed veggie juices, and Smith Tea on tap are in the works. Dinner at the small concrete and wood space will shift to chic comfort plates and riffs on his later work at Paley’s: think unorthodox sashimi dishes, roasted poussin with tarragon butter, braised oxtail, and foie gras-stuffed rabbit roulade. The pair have even toyed with tasting menus in 2016.

The project, with its East-meets-West focus and sharp pedigree, could shape up to be a heavy-hitting anchor for the Market, which will also house projects from Hopworks, Barista, Ken's Artisan Bakery, Olympia Provisions, and Marukin when it opens this winter.

“I’m excited for the Market itself, which is gonna be very unique for Portland. We haven’t had so many talented people going into a project at the same time before,” says McKee. "And I’m gonna be in there, cooking every day. Seven days a week.”

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