Dame (2930 NE Killingsworth St.) is a bit of an oddity. It’s not a wine bar per se—it’s a fully functioning restaurant that takes its food as seriously as its pours. But the focus at Dame, scheduled to open September 14, is definitely the wine, as curated by nationally celebrated expert Dana Frank (formerly of Ava Gene’s) and co-owner Jane Smith (the Knock Back).
As Eat Beat first reported in March, Dame is Portland’s first restaurant dedicated to natural wine: unadulterated, imperfect, organically grown grapes produced without any additives. Frank’s carefully chosen vintages range from easy, everyday glasses to special, hard-to-find bottles. A quick look at the 15-piece by-the-glass list shows an eclectic bunch from Europe, Oregon (including her husband’s own Bow & Arrow urban winery), and even one from Bosnia, all under $20.
The small kitchen is helmed by former Seattle chef Eli Dahlin (Walrus and the Carpenter, Damn the Weather) who hopes to “stay out of the way” of the natural wine program, by cooking lighter, vegetable-focused dishes. An early menu shows sharable plates with heavy seafood accents and not a pig part in sight. Think braised squid with lettuce and smoky paprika; zucchini with smoked trout, white beans, and dill; olive oil-poached halibut with Georgian peppers; and chilled melon soup, elderberry sorbet, and shiso for dessert.
The space, a 1920s-era building with old wooden floors and walls of windows, has changed since its last tenant, Cocotte, departed late 2015. Dark wallpaper lines the walls and 37 seats curl around the small dining room, with a marble bar area serving curated beer bottles, straight liquor (no cocktails), and house-made sodas from Dahlin. In back, a beautiful private dining room clad in turquoise holds a 12-seat communal table.
For natural wine aficionados, pinot noir-swilling novices, and everyone in between, it's a place to watch.