Eat Here Now

Bar West Thrives in Northwest's Famed Wildwood Space

The new spot nails the neighborhood charm.

By Benjamin Tepler February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

To see the space that once held Wildwood—one of Portland’s most iconic restaurants—reinhabited is kind of like visiting your childhood home to see a new family living inside. Happily, the people cooking in the old Wildwood bones, now a neighborhood cocktail spot called Bar West, have built a fresh, modern space with remarkably approachable food.

Bar West is actually just Wildwood’s original bar space, a 40-seater in blond wood, curved archways, and muted tones; the rest of the former restaurant is reserved for private dining and cooking classes. The bar shakes up habit-forming cocktails, mostly creative takes on classics as reimagined by noted barman Brandon Josie. The Toki & Savory, a highball fizzing with Suntory whisky, salted plum, and “maitake mushroom soda,” has junk food levels of sweet-salty-umami that will get you into trouble, fast.

The kitchen is helmed by young chef couple on the rise Lucian Prellwitz and Morgan Deeks. The pair met at Ned Ludd; now they sweat it out together in the tiny West kitchen every night, with only a few part-timers and externs for help.

You might dismiss the slim menu as unambitious on first glance. It’s a fairly simple list of west-side-approved comforts with a distinctly 1990s Zefiro-Wildwood-Paley’s vibe, chicken-liver mousse to hazelnut-laden salads to flourless chocolate cake. But that’s intentional: Prellwitz and Deeks are cooking their nostalgic go-tos, with seasonality at the forefront.

The best things so far make use of Wildwood’s old tandoor oven, still swallowing applewood logs after all these years. Smoky beets sit in a brown butter–curry spice slick that lends a gentle, complex heat to the tender roots. A huge mound of fall-apart short ribs hunker in a red wine reduction that seeps into McDonald’s-caliber fries. Spaghetti a la chitarra, a tomato-butter-sauced ode to Italian legend Marcella Hazan, is mainline comfort.

There are still kinks: salt levels fluctuate, a number of doughy “focaccia” toasts were singed beyond healthy levels, and a recent confit chicken leg was overcooked. And a few callbacks from past decades might not warrant resurrection, like that dense, brick-like chocolate cake—even if it is zhuzhed with red-wine cherries.

To light the burners in one of the city’s most hallowed and recognizable kitchens is impressive enough. But Bar West cooks a menu that coddles the neighborhood’s less adventurous crowd and hooks nostalgia-hunting food hounds. For that, it’s already earned its keep. 

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