WOOD-FIRE GRILLING is happily aflame in Portland, charring notable pizza crusts and blackening whole trouts across the city. This spring, chef Greg Denton is taking the trend to the next level, putting wood-fired cooking center stage at Ox, his new Northeast Portland restaurant. Six seats surround a state-of-the-art, hand-cranked grill at the heart of the dining room, where whole lamb shoulders, freshly stuffed chorizo, and sultry blood sausage blister and caramelize before diners’ wide eyes.
With its adventurous Argentine cuisine, Ox is poised to change the landscape of Portland’s largely timid South American food ventures. Denton, formerly chef at the Pearl District’s Metrovino, is best known as a meat-auteur—and the brains behind Portland’s most extravagant 16-piece charcuterie board. His wife, Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, has cooked at his side since they met at Napa Valley’s famed Terra restaurant in 1999. To Denton’s mad-scientist approach to meat, Quiñónez adds childhood recollections of Ecuador’s open-air markets and crimping empanadas de viento alongside her grandmother.
“Traditionally, Ecuador couldn’t afford the same expensive cattle as Argentina, says Quiñónez, “but all of the flavors and the staples of our cuisine are nearly identical.” To pair with Ox’s Northwest-inspired version of chimichurri, the ubiquitous South American condiment, the chefs substitute lusciously textured halibut for steak and add fresh peas and mint to showcase May’s bright flavors. With crispy skins and smoky char, Ox is poised to make serious grill marks on Portland’s ever-expanding international food scene.