Talk about snooze you lose: In 2011, chef Matt Lightner was reimagining Oregon cuisine at Southeast Portland’s Castagna in the wildest ways imaginable, with skills learned at some of Europe’s top food temples. Except the dining room was half-empty on most nights. He was lured away to New York to open Atera, where he promptly earned two Michelin stars and three more from the New York Times, a fast feat almost unheard of for an outsider.
Now, following a lauded stint at Napa Valley’s Ninebark, he’s pulling out his next surprise: a collaborative dinner with regional Thai destination Langbaan, Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year 2014. Lightner says the restaurant caught his attention on a visit last year—the intimacy, the seasonal passion, the willingness to get crazy with herbs.
On July 26, Lightner will jump into the kitchen with Langbaan owner Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, recently hired cook Kitsanaruk Ketkuaviriyanont (an alum of Thailand’s modern-rustic Nahm and Err Bangkok), and pastry chef Maya Erickson, a San Francisco transplant with an impressive resume. The menu (roughly five courses, plus snacks) will spin off visits to Portland’s farmers markets, where Ninsom is a regular. The cherry on top? Ace bartender Evan Zimmerman will be behind the bar. The whole thing will run you $185 per person, including cocktail and wine pairings.
Portland is the country’s unofficial home of collaboration dinners. They might be fantastic, or more painful than a tooth extraction. You never know what you’re signing on for. But this one has the potential for magic. I’ll be among the first to sign up.
No one, though, is more excited than Ninsom. “The first time I had a meal from [Matt Lightner] was at Feast Portland when he did a collaboration dinner with [famed champion of Southern cuisine] Sean Brock. It was eye-opening: the creativity, the new flavors, the way the presentation—modernist but naturalistic—was full of excitement but still calm. I still keep some of the photos from that dinner five years ago in my archive file.”