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Coquine's short ribs

Every month, we dig through our restaurant listings to bring you a themed (and non-comprehensive!) roundup of places to eat out in Portland. In the February 2018 issue, we highlight 18 spots for a romantic night out.

Angel Face

Navarre’s sister bar, a jewel box of a space dominated by conversation-starting pink, flowered walls, charms with French plates and artful cocktails. Portions are small, but the homey-yet-polished flavors are huge, like a stew-y French onion soup hiding gobs of gruyère, or a poached egg swimming in an impossibly silky, tart broth of red wine and onion. The steak tartare is a guaranteed hit, which you can (and should) accessorize with raw, chopped oysters to give a seaside tang to an already luxurious schmear. Thoughtful details, from the house-made crackers on the fish board to the diamonds the bartenders stenciled on the bathroom’s tile floor, make Angel Face worth the prices.

Ava Gene’s

A rush of indie glamour greets you at the door: marble, grandma curtains, banquettes as soft as Italian bomber jackets, rock ’n’ roll.  The menu pays homage to the Italian sensibility: great ingredients, simply prepared, pastas to wood-charred breads heaped with deliciousness. But everything is channeled through the imagination of owner-chef Joshua McFadden, a rising star on the national scene, with his own cabinet of ingredients, vegetable intuition and flavor combinations. Salads are the stars, but the menu offers broad possibilities: intriguing fritters to fish off the grill. Grab a seat at the chef’s counter and enjoy the live-fire cooking show.

Bar Casa Vale

In the past year, BCV has gone from being an exciting Spanish bar with an ambitious wood-fired side hustle to a bona fide restaurant. A recent hit? seafood fideos, made with chewy, sauce-grabbing cavatelli, steeped in a rich, deep tomato sauce with heaps of fresh Monterey Bay squid and savory clams, and a healthy dollop of garlicky aioli at the center. But the bar still rules: geek out over cider, sip low-proof aperitifs, sample clever “Pan-Latin” cocktails, or get wise to Spain’s robust gin-and-tonic tradition: giant goblets brimming with rotating botanicals and citrus. It’s best enjoyed at the turquoise-arabesque tiled bar, or, in warmer months, on the light-strung Barcelona-in-spirit patio. 

Beast

Surely you’ve heard of Naomi Pomeroy. She’s the firebrand. The meat queen-turned-celebrity chef. The cookbook author and James Beard Award winner. Over a decade in, Pomeroy’s Beast is no longer your sassy little sister kicking out foie gras bonbons, candied bacon, and intense chocolate truffle cake. Today’s incarnation is all grown up: prix fixe menus remain the mode for dinner and Sunday brunch, but flavors are now more familiar to followers of seasonal contemporary cooking, from pretty pastas to citrus-poached octopus terrine. If you want an adventure, go to Pomeroy’s Expatriate bar across the street. If you want something accessible, confident, and beautiful, shared with strangers at a table, Beast is your animal. 

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Clyde’s rustic American-meets-European dishes are a Portland classic.

Clyde Common

Chefs have come and gone from Clyde, set in the ground floor of the Ace Hotel, bringing and leaving a mash-up of intercontinental influences that linger on the menu. A recent dinner had its moments: togarashi- spiced popcorn, a happy hour staple; a sprightly grilled trout. It has its fair share of misses, too. But then, Clyde Common never affected the culinary auteur theory that often informs Portland’s darlings of the moment. Instead, owner Nate Tilden and his shifting teams of talent created an enduringly necessary restaurant: here, you could end up next to a local power broker or a Japanese tourist, all of you united by a $6 happy hour cocktail.

Coquine

Katy Millard is a beast in the kitchen, crafting thoughtful, everyday food and drink, day and night. Vegetables get top billing, rigor is a given, and yet you never forget you’re in laid-back Southeast Portland. Millard ponders finds from 10 farms for the day’s menu—perhaps a salad that digs into squash (wide, raw curls above, jewel-cut cooked chunks below, with sunflower pesto spackled in between) or crackling-skinned guinea hen heaped alongside eggplant-apple purée and buzzsaw cuts of green cauliflower roasted to the heavens. It’s Michelin around the corner, a high-end homey cuisine that stands in beautiful contrast to Portland’s usual bacon-heavy, stoner-dude munchies. 

Dame

At this NE Killingsworth boîte, au naturel is the only way to go. Originally built by rising-star sommelier Dana Frank (although she’s since departed), the dark, soigné restaurant is a stronghold of natural wine: vintages pressed and bottled from unadulterated, imperfect, organically grown grapes, Oregon to Bosnia, with a light, seafood-and vegetable-focused menu that plays nicely with the curated list.

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Davenport’s sought-after seared scallops, eased back with rare wine and handblown Zalto glasses

Davenport

At Davenport, 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, produces a menu that reads like a brochure to an Italian village—ever-changing pâtés and beautiful soups, braised meats and local fish, polished with detail and Old World sentiment. Gibson’s a seasonal nut, which means the fritto misto is not only perfect; it might include wild mushrooms as big as your hand. Behind the bar, co-owner Kurt Heilemann has turned the East Burnside space into a pretension-free wine nerd’s paradise. The list is deep in value-driven finds—Loire Valley discoveries, Sicilian gems, the Piedmontese producer with the one great plot. But even a $30 bottle arrives with hand-blown Zalto glasses, normally reserved for high rollers in big-city food temples. Cheers.

Expatriate

Candlelight spotlights what matters here: two turntables spinning High Fidelity-level vinyl moods, and heat-seeking Asian snacks by James Beard medalist Naomi Pomeroy. Then there are the house nachos, crunched up with fried wonton-skin chips, lemongrassed beef crumbles, bright herbs, and, yes, spicy Velveeta cheese. But lip-smacking cocktails from Kyle Linden Webster and crew are the show, eight per night, balanced like the scales of justice. Weekend brunches bring on golden waffles, artful congee, and a bad-ass Bloody Mary rippling with XXX Death Sauce.

Jacqueline

This seafood cove in the former St. Jack space gets its name—and aesthetic inspiration—from Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. At the driftwood-clad bar, beneath a painted portrait of Bill Murray, one can slurp down $1 happy hour oysters accessorized with house tarragon vinegar, jalapeño hot sauce, and red Tabasco. Hyperseasonal is the mode: morels, pea jus, sea beans, and a spruce tip focaccia, topped with house burrata and mushroom conserva. Whole roasted trout to cioppino fisherman’s stew are crowd favorites, while crudo shows off the kitchen’s creativity, with a shrimp ceviche popping with green strawberries and Fresno chiles, or yellowtail with salted kohlrabi. It goes down smooth with a small, carefully curated wine list and stellar but potent cocktails—just the way Steve Zissou’s sailors prefer it. 

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Mussels and fries at La Moule

La Moule

At La Moule, St. Jack’s Francophile chef Aaron Barnett reintroduces Portland to mussels and fries with a globe-spanning take on Belgium’s national dish, plus a side of moody lighting and great cocktails. Its comfy black booths are sweet, dimly lit nooks for sharable, date-night mussels steamed in six flavorful broths, with a menu bookended by French-inspired bar fare, like a burger with a thick slice of bacon and double-cream brie on top. La Moule pulls double duty as a serious bar. Cocktails like the Lilah are approachable, with sherry, green chartreuse, and Mellow Corn—an in-vogue corn whiskey. Meanwhile, the Belgian-inspired tap list, both European and local, is a traditional (and perfect) partner for the country’s favorite dish.

Le Pigeon

Gabriel Rucker is a Portland original, possessed by French bistro cooking and Americana. Meat rules the ever-changing list—foie gras, pigeon, and pig parts are frequent guests. But salads can also be brilliant, and the French-focused wine list is deep, smart, and personal. The voltage extends to the softly lit, Parisian atmosphere, with communal tables and great energy. You never know what you’ll find at Le Pigeon, but you’re not likely to forget it.

Little Bird

At this downtown bistro, it’s as if Gabriel Rucker (see Le Pigeon, above) turned his culinary wit down from an 11 to a 10 and fell through a Francophile rabbit hole. We’re talking bold but still-recognizable fried chicken coq au vin, or foie gras torchon with blueberry compote. Another winner? The Double Brie Burger, fantastically juicy, cloaked in cheese funk, lifted with sharp, mustardy béarnaise, then counterpunched with spicy, crunchy, pickle-intensive ketchup. Despite a love for Mother Sauces and pungent cheese, you still might still find some chile-braised octopus hanging out in your roasted marrow bone now and again.

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Clam pasta at Luce

Image: Karen Brooks

Luce

Chef John Taboada’s Luce is not easily defined. Candlelit shelves stretch from the floor clear to the ceiling, inviting a treasure hunt for imported foods and Italian wine finds, available to drink on-site with a corkage fee. At tiny oak tables, an understated menu might kick off with a carnival of $2 antipasti bites begging for impromptu table parties and ends with double-decker sponge cake billowing pastry cream and pistachios. In between come a fine stuffed trout, a dandy plate of spaghetti and clams, and the best bowl of soup to be found: cappelletti in brodo (stuffed pasta in broth).

Måurice

Kristen Murray curates every molecule of flavor at her strange and delightful French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette,” where the experience veers from twee to revelatory, varying by the day and the plate. You’ll meet Murray’s sweet-craft, her nana’s lefse, and bitter salads. One visit lands you her “chocolate box”—black sesame seed cake, banana mousse, and chocolate mousse housed in glossy chocolate walls so stunning it belongs in the window at Barneys. The next yields bostock, a thick slice of brioche coated with walnut paste and poached fruit like an otherworldly French toast. It’s a gutsy spot—580 square feet of technical skill, refined palate, and tunnel-vision fervor.

Ox

Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton’s meaty love story is told over flames erupting from a hand-cranked grill. The intimate chef’s counter is an essential destination—and close enough to the wood fire to literally feel the heat. Don’t miss the James Beard award-winning couple’s Uruguayan beef rib eye or the clam chowder, served with smoked bone marrow shouldering some fierce jalapeños. Happiness can be easily found at clustered tables or the teeny bar, home of a righteously twisted pisco sour: smoky and ear-tingling under a billowing white egg cloud. 

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French macarons at Pix Pâtisserie

Image: Karen Brooks

Pix Pâtisserie/Bar Vivant

At dessert hero Cheryl Wakerhauser’s Pix Pâtisserie/Bar Vivant, napkins litter the floor, scarlet damask lines the walls, and Champagne enthusiasts play a game of pétanque in the courtyard. Portland seems miles away in this world of wacky European vitality and sparkling wine obsession. Wakerhauser has been baking bonbons and French macarons since she opened in 2001, but in 2012 Pix moved to East Burnside, bringing savory Spanish tapas, an expanded cocktail menu, and a beautiful space to the sweet equation.

Suzette Crêperie

After five years in her super-cute Belmont spot, former Chez Panisse pastry chef Jehnee Rains is still folding up some of the best crêpes in the city (with a $4 happy hour and a killer brunch to boot). Her sweet tooth shines in dessert crêpes like the “Chocolat,” a cocoa lover’s dark fantasy folded with Rains’s homemade version of Nutella, chocolate sauce, candied hazelnuts, and cinnamon ice cream. Savory options range from vegan and kid-friendly to create-your-own crêpes.

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Editor’s Pick

Suzette Creperie

$ 3342 SE Belmont St

Suzette boasts a cocktail menu, a $3.50 happy hour, and a killer brunch, not to mention superlative crêpes, layered with quality ingredients and fromscratch ...

Bar Vivant/Pix Patisserie

$$ Dessert 2225 E Burnside St

Discover a quirky balance of European flavor and Portland charm at this wine lounge and tapas bar on East Burnside in the Kerns district, featuring a 2,000+ bottle wine cellar, outdoor courtyard, and French pastry creations from Pix's Cheryl Wakerhauser.

Editor’s Pick

Ox

$$$ Latin American, Steakhouse 2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton’s meaty love story is told over flames erupting from a hand-cranked grill. Don’t miss their Uruguayan beef rib eye ...

Editor’s Pick

Måurice

$$ Bakery, Scandinavian 921 SW Oak St

Kristen Murray curates every molecule of flavor at her strange and delightful French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette,” where the experience veers from twee...

Editor’s Pick

Luce

$$ Italian 2140 E Burnside St

Chef John Taboada’s Luce is not easily defined. Candlelit shelves stretch from the floor clear to the ceiling, inviting a treasure hunt for imported foods an...

Editor’s Pick

Little Bird Bistro

$$$ French 219 SW 6th Ave.

Little Bird has quietly rebooted as Portland’s most exciting “new” restaurant. The downtown bistro’s cooking feels vital and experimental, like a playful foo...

Editor’s Pick

Le Pigeon

$$$ French, New American 738 E Burnside St

Gabriel Rucker is a Portland original whose ideas have crackled into something electric. Working off-the-cuff in his own world of complex flavor combinations...

Editor’s Pick

La Moule

$$ French 2500 SE Clinton St

At La Moule, St. Jack’s Francophile chef Aaron Barnett reintroduces Portland to mussels and fries with a globe-spanning take on Belgium’s national dish, plus...

Editor’s Pick

Jacqueline

$$ Pacific Northwest, Seafood 2039 SE Clinton St

This seafood cove in the former St. Jack space gets its name—and aesthetic inspiration—from Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic. At the driftwood-clad bar, benea...

Editor’s Pick

Expatriate

$$ Asian, Breakfast / Brunch 5424 NE 30th Ave

Candlelight spotlights what matters here: two turntables spinning vintage moods, outsized images of old European movies projected on the wall, drinks balance...

Editor’s Pick

Davenport

$$$ Mediterranean, Pacific Northwest 2215 E Burnside St

At Davenport, 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 Evo...

Editor’s Pick

Dame

$$ Pacific Northwest 2930 NE Killingsworth St

At this NE Killingsworth restaurant and wine bar, au naturel is the only way to go. Originally built by rising-star sommelier Dana Frank (she’s since departe...

Editor’s Pick

Coquine

$$$ New American, Pacific Northwest 6839 SE Belmont Street

Coquine's talented young Katy Millard crafts thoughtful, everyday food and drink, day and night. Vegetables get top billing: a salad that digs into squash (w...

Editor’s Pick

Clyde Common

$$$ New American, Pacific Northwest 1014 SW Stark St

Set in the ground floor of the Ace Hotel, Clyde Common has a tastefully informal chic vibe—and the bar serves the best negroni in town, barrel-aged into some...

Editor’s Pick

Beast

$$$$ French, Pacific Northwest 5425 NE 30th Ave

Feel the girl power at Naomi Pomeroy's no-holds-barred, female run eatery on NE 30th, where the Top Chef Masters contenders serves up prix-fixe meals of foie gras bonbons, pork belly, and daring seasonal fare.

Editor’s Pick

Bar Casa Vale

$$ Spanish 215 SE 9th Ave

BCV is Clyde Common restaurateur Nate Tilden’s take on an authentic sherry and tapas bar. Wood smoke permeates the menu, from crispy game hen in tangy mojo s...

Editor’s Pick

Ava Gene's

$$$ Italian 3377 SE Division St

In the neighborhood that birthed Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Duane Sorenson’s ode to Italy, Brooklyn, and the People’s Republic of Portland swings like an ind...

Editor’s Pick

Angel Face

Recommended Menu, Specialty Cocktails 14 NE 28th Ave

Navarre's sister bar on Northeast 28th Ave offers romantic craft cocktails and petit French cuisine.