If nothing else, Portland may remember San Francisco star chef Chris Cosentino for making the Hilton cool. Yes, with Jackrabbit, the lord of animal cookery (the dude’s twitter handle is @offalchris) is poised to make his entry into Portland’s suddenly booming hotel restaurant scene inside the Executive Tower of the Hilton at 545 SW Taylor Street. As Eat Beat has learned, a chain that seemingly defines generic business-class cooking will soon showcase the “S&M” (a towering shellfish-meat platter), monstrous pin-bone steaks, trotter tots, rabbit with 80 cloves of garlic, and bone marrow-laced French onion soup.
In his first in-depth interview about Jackrabbit, Cosentino tells Eat Beat that the space is undergoing a major rehab right now, with plans to evolve into a boutique lifestyle hotel—possibly with a new name (the project is still under wraps). If all goes well, the restaurant will open in late February or early March. The menu is not likely to reach the pitched offal fever of the chef’s Cockscomb—recently awarded three stars by San Francisco’s influential critic Michael Bauer. But Jackrabbit, promises Cosentino, will be “big, bold and brash, front and center.”
Jackrabbit takes its name from the Northwest’s wild rabbit. “They’re nocturnal; they like to come out and play at night. They eat at night, have fun… that’s what it’s all about,” Cosentino says. He sees this playing out in convivial shared platters, “lots of jokes and joviality in the food” (hello S&M tower), and some Portland history Easter eggs hidden throughout. (One drink, dubbed the “Coin Toss,” references how Portland got its name: you flip, the bartender chooses the spirit.) Gin, another Cosentino obsession, will drive the bar, but he’s also planning to go deep on Oregon wine and beer. This being Portland, there will be a chicken and waffle dish—but at Jackrabbit, it will sandwich fried chicken, eggs, and hot sauce between two shredded potato waffles. Go ahead. We’re predictable. Sign us up.
In Portland, Cosentino has found a kindred spirit that shares his love of meat, crazy ideas, and the outdoors. Among his various passions, he’s an avid cyclist, salumi artist (SF’s Boccalone), and loyal guest chef at Portland’s annual Feast festival. “It’s a second city now,” he says. “I have so many friends here. There’s so much cool stuff going on. The craft, the work ethic, the old-school ‘make something right’ attitude. I’m really excited to be part of it.”
That said, Cosentino is not moving here. He has a full plate that includes a new Napa restaurant with longtime business partner (and Jackrabbit co-owner) Oliver Wharton and a book project in the works. But post-launch, the plan is make regular stopovers here. And maybe shop for a house before Portland becomes, you know, San Francisco.
Meanwhile, day to day, the kitchen will be under the watch of chef Chris DiMinno, who logged time with some top New York talents (Dan Barber, Bill Telepan) before taking over Portland’s Clyde Common for a few years, ending in 2014. Jackrabbit’s plan right now includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner to start, with brunch to come later (along with a roving Bloody Mary cart). Room service will be offered from the kitchen menus during normal restaurant hours only. Cosentino hopes the private dining room will become an outlet for his whole pig roasts.
Cosentino is the biggest-name chef from another city to make a play in Portland. Local chefs have welcomed the move. It doesn’t always go that way. “What makes me feel great about coming here? To be honest, it’s no backlash, no animosity," he says. "It really makes me feel part of Portland. A lot of respect. I don’t want to be the outsider.” With a “pork belly, fried oyster and umami mayo” sandwich slated for lunch, he’s anything but.