At Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry, “Pleasant” Is a Very Good Thing

Breakfast sandwiches to toothsome porridge to pork and beans, this new Hollywood cafe refreshes in its simplicity.

By Kelly Clarke July 12, 2016 Published in the August 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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“Pleasant” feels like a backhanded compliment in these hypercharged times. We want our food lusty or inventive, our spaces challenging. But Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry, the breakfast-and-lunch spot that opened next to the Hollywood Theatre in April, is indeed thoroughly pleasant, no more, no less: a low-key, light-filled café where you can play book hermit with a mug of Extracto coffee and a bowl of nutty porridge, surrounded by unironic china and the wavering croon of Lou Reed. Pleasant, it turns out, can be refreshing.

Owner Robin Wheelright, a San Francisco environmental policy geek-turned-caterer and cook, has filled this formerly fusty coffee shop with her favorite things: house
ferments and Mama Lil’s peppers, fresh flowers, local fruits, and simmering broths. She and her all-female crew take center stage in the small eatery’s open kitchen, layering baked eggs, prosciutto, and oozy brie on seeded rolls for tarragon-aioli-slathered breakfast sandwiches, or snugging silky polenta wedges into bowls of chipotle and grapefruit juice–braised pork and black beans. A neighborhood crowd colonizes the small dining area’s farm table to nibble bread pudding, full of chewy-crisp croissant and sourdough edges, tart with macerated Hood strawberries and clouds of rosemary whipped cream.

That breakfast porridge—which really deserves a less lumpy, soggy name—reveals the kitchen’s knack for nailing details that turn a humdrum dish delicious. Each bowl, a toothsome mingle of salted oats and toasted quinoa, creamy with half-and-half and barely sweetened with brown sugar, is cooked to order. It comes with good yogurt, shards of toasted coconut, pistachios, and ever-changing fruit variants, from raspberry compote to pickled strawberries. I want to eat it every morning, and twice on the weekend.

Vivienne’s weak spot so far: a lack of acid in some dishes. The dullsville smashed chickpea sandwich, chalky and bland despite specks of pickled peppers, could do with a major squeeze of lemon, as could that citrus-braised pork.

Come fall, Vivienne plans to add early-evening hours, making it a place to grab a charcuterie plate or a composed dessert with a glass of wine before catching an art flick at the Hollywood. What a truly pleasant thought.

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