Pâté, manchego slices, marcona almonds. You know the drill: if you’re at a wine bar, it’s for the grapes, not the grub. (There are, of course, restaurant-bar hybrid exceptions, like natural wine–heavy Dame and Division stalwart Bar Avignon.) Now, two of Portland’s best wine bars, Park Avenue Fine Wines and Southeast Wine Collective, are stepping up their game: neither has so much as added tablecloths, but both are serving plates you’d be happy to get at some of the city’s better eateries.
Althea Grey Potter, an alum of Jenn Louis’s now-shuttered Lincoln, teased out bits of her kooky, global, intensely seasonal plates for four years at Southeast Wine Collective before folding it all into the dinner menu at the collective’s new Oui Wine Bar & Restaurant. It’s a true tasting-room experience: small, drafty, littered with barrels. That makes sense—the collective’s members make exuberant, out-of-the-box Oregon wines feet away.
A prime example of Potter’s cooking style: delicata squash, cut into two pillars that overflow with crispy, harissa-spiced chickpeas, feta, and big leaves of mint over a tangy squash hummus. It looks like a high school diorama and sounds like a hashtag (“All the Squash”), but manages to bring out the best of each variety with pluck and contrast. Kale salad lovers, rejoice: her use of suddenly popular kalettes—a kale/brussels sprout fusion roasted into a bramble of chips, and served over a Caesar-style almond dressing, big curls of pecorino, and whole parsley leaves—is the reboot you were hoping for.
At downtown’s cavernous Park Avenue Fine Wines, star sommelier Stacey Gibson has poured glasses from a deep Francophile cellar since last January, after the wine shop opened in the Brasserie Montmartre space with Bardot as its front-of-house snack bar. Now rebranded as the Wine Bar at Park Avenue, the kitchen is run by Karl Holl, former chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Perbacco. (He splits his time between the wine bar, his catering operation Spätzle and Speck, and his Mulino, Oregon–based Snout Farm.)
His farm haul is the star here, with plates like the tempura winter vegetables—a veritable headdress with crispy cauliflower, pickled summer beans, and, yes, kalettes—dusted in dried chiles and smoked parmesan, served with a slick of garlicky “ranch.” Pasta skills from Holl’s time at Perbacco show up in a silky, 100-layer lasagna dense with creamy mushroom duxelles and in a borage-stuffed pasta in rich ragù. It’s all refined, thoughtful, and nuanced—if a bit heavy for some of Park Avenue’s diverse wine library.
Potter and Holl are proof that wine bars can be undercover restaurants with the right person in the kitchen. “I want people to expand their idea of what wine-friendly food is,” says Potter. Mission accomplished.