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 October 2017 issue, we highlight 17 spots with standout wine lists.
Now the mothership of chef-turned-restaurateur Joshua McFadden’s small but growing fleet of east-side eateries, Ava Gene’s swings like an indie brasserie. It’s a place to indulge in everything that makes Portland tick, as exacting ingredients, garage-rock scruffiness, shameless Europhilia, cocktail savvy, and Italian wine are reconfigured into a new standard of dining: marble clad, service intensive, and soaring behind what sounds like a director’s cut of iconic rock. Traditional limitations of “rustic” food are erased between the wood-charred breads, vegetable intensity, and satisfying pastas.
Understatement is a virtue at this neighborhood favorite, where comfort, flavor, and a great feel for wine are the cornerstones. Bar Avignon is a wine bar at heart, offering roughly 150 well-priced, well-chosen bottles from around the world, but the food and cocktails are not to be overlooked. Splitting and sharing are the navigation modes, from small plates to entrées, plus a thoughtful selection of cheese and charcuterie. Happy hour features $7 glasses, fine oysters, and seasonal finger food.
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 sauce to charred curls of octopus tangled around chorizo-fried hearth potatoes. But the focus is at the bar, where Cynar-fueled Argentine juleps and a Spanish-heavy wine menu bookend the impressive 30-bottle sherry list. It’s best enjoyed at the turquoise-arabesque tiled bar, or, in warmer months, on the light-strung Barcelona-in-spirit patio.
A culinary poet and dessert artist, chef Justin Woodward splices seasonal high points, technical feats, and concentrated sauces into spare compositions of strange beauty. His best ideas are excitedly out of the box, among them an edible “terrarium” with dreamy onion custard and hypergreen onion-stalk purée standing in for soil beneath a greenhouse of backyard leaves and flowers. Woodward’s Michelin star–caliber desserts remain one of Portland’s best-kept secrets. Meanwhile, veteran restaurateur Monique Siu keeps the modern machine humming behind the scenes.
Talented young 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. Every dish embodies the house ethos: light, naturalistic, and spot-on seasoned, yet underpinned by an iron framework of fundamental technique. 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.
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 departed), the dark, soigné corner spot 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.
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, cooks with stripped-down clarity, producing a menu that reads like a mood ring of the seasons: ever-changing soups and salads, braised meats, and local fish, polished with attention to detail and Old World sentiment. At the same time, co-owner Kurt Heilemann has turned the East Burnside space into a pretension-free wine nerd’s paradise. His list is 150 bottles deep in value-driven finds—a stash of Loire Valley discoveries, Sicilian gems, and that Piedmontese producer with one great plot. But even a $30 bottle arrives with a set of rare, hand-blown Zalto glasses. Cheers.
Will Preisch and Joel Stocks deliver a fresh vision of what fine dining in Portland can be: high-quality, highly personal, and casually ceremonial. Originally stationed at Kitchen Cru, the former pop-up relocated to its own romantically rustic perch in the front room of Fausse Piste urban winery, where one dines among the barrels as electropop wafts from vintage speakers. But the wide-ranging thinkers still swing easily from modern to gritty, one-bite snacks to multifaceted entrées, foraged sea plants to beef snagged at New Seasons. Upgrades include coffee trays bearing homemade candies and lively juice pairings or complex ciders, wines, and craft brews. Sign up online, snuggle in at the chef’s counter, and dig into multiple courses conceived, cooked, composed, and hand-delivered by a pair of guys who also serve as the evening’s hosts and dishwashers.
→ Celebrated somm Dana Frank (formerly of Dame) has joined the team at Holdfast as wine director. Her upcoming cookbook, Wine Food, written with Portland author and food stylist Andrea Slonecker, is due fall 2018.
Gabriel Rucker is a Portland original whose ideas crackle into something electric. Working off the cuff in his own world of complex flavor combinations, Rucker is 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. Le Pigeon embodies Portland’s rise on the national scene in a single, sharply focused snapshot.
Part shared tasting room for Portland-area wineries Golden Cluster and Ovum, part lamplit luxury bunker, Alberta Street’s aptly named Les Caves is where Portland’s wine elite will surely try to ride out the Big One. Behind a gleaming bar, find framed odes to Oregon’s earliest vintners, tinned Spanish sardines, a lone panini press for grilled cheese, and Golden Cluster winemaker Jeff Vejr. Co-owner Vejr—formerly Holdfast’s wine man—pours small-batch gems from both winemakers, alongside hard-to-find wines from Slovenia to South Africa.
James Beard double-medaled Gabriel Rucker (see Le Pigeon, above) forges fresh ideas for Little Bird, somewhere between Paris and America’s culinary underbelly. That means foie gras capped in crispy chicken skin or extraordinary veal meatballs luxuriating in escargot cream, like a strange fever dream that finds Tony Soprano dining at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Another hit? The Double Brie Burger, fantastically juicy, cloaked in cheese funk, lifted with sharp, mustardy béarnaise, then counterpunched with spicy, crunchy, pickle-intensive ketchup.
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 kicks 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 dish of spaghetti and clams, and the best bowl of soup to be found: cappelletti in brodo (stuffed pasta in broth).
On the fourth floor of Lower Burnside’s Rocket Building, Leather Storrs cooks comfort food from his rooftop garden to pair with Noble Rot’s wine program. The outdoor patio offers unparalleled views of downtown Portland, even in the chill of winter. Diner staples top the list: extra-sharp mac and cheese with a spike of Dijon mustard and a crunch of bread crumbs; crisp, airy onion rings; a respectable flatiron steak with creamy romesco sauce. The evergreen list of small-plates, like the caramelized onion tart on a flaky pastry shell, make Noble Rot more than just a room with a view.
Local food legend Cathy Whims presents Italian home cooking as it should be—stripped down, honest, powered by wood fire. No place in Portland is better suited to please a diverse crowd: foodies, kids, wine lovers, your adventure-fearing relatives. The mandatory preamble is the Caesar-esque insalata Nostrana. Pasta with tomato butter embodies simple purity, but desserts—hot-from-the-oven fruit crisps and intensive chocolate bodino—can make you gasp. The bistecca alla Fiorentina is arguably the city’s best steak: 2.5 pounds, cooked over oak fire, and big enough for four.
The charcuterie list shares the impressive house salumi and sausages with the original Olympia Provisions in Southeast, but the Northwest branch is a completely different animal, with its own feel and flavors. Seasonal maestro Eric Joppie transforms the kitchen with a repertoire of European and American dishes, pickled bites, soups, and salads. Laid-back tastes include chicken—plucked from an antique, fire-engine-red rotisserie—plump and juicy with crackling golden skin, poached halibut in salami broth and poxta beans, and super fresh melon salad with the unpronounceable Swiss smoked ham, landrauchschinken.
At dessert hero Cheryl Wakerhauser’s Pix Patisserie/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 off bon bons 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.
→ Pix has the ”Best Champagne & Sparkling Wine List in the World” according to World of Fine Wine, for the fourth year straight. That’s a pretty big deal from a well-regarded publication that scours 4,500 restaurants ”worldwide” for the very best wine lists.
When St. Jack migrated from its quaint corner perch on SE Clinton Street to a bigger, more industrial landing on a bustling corner of NW 23rd Avenue in 2014, there were some serious upgrades. Chef Aaron Barnett added an ambitious seasonal chilled seafood menu packed with luxurious nautical finds like briny-sweet whorl-shelled bulot (giant snails) to a list of rich, comforting staples. Still, the bouchon’s bubbled-over crocks of macaroni gratin pounded with bacon lardons and plates of blood sausage leave no doubt: Lyon is in the house.