More and more people seem to be making the move from California to Portland. Grouse if you like. I say this: Let them be chefs, and all the better if they love vegetables. Coquine’s Katy Millard, Tusk’s Sam Smith and Park Avenue’s Karl Holl all drifted up here from the Golden State, influencing Portland’s farm-centric scene and all of them earning Portland Monthly’s Rising Star or Best New Chef awards.
Will Garrett Benedict join that influential group? We’ll find out mid-summer when the Portland newcomer hopes to open his dream spot, G-Love, a nearly two thousand square-foot restaurant with roughly 52 seats (plus patio seating) at 1615 NW 21st Avenue, on the ground floor of The Carson apartment complex.
At 32, Benedict has kicked around some great kitchens. He worked at AL’s Place under star chef Aaron London—a quirky, eclectic San Francisco eatery that nabbed Bon Appetit’s No. 1 Best New Restaurant in 2015. In the restaurant’s first year, the magazine ran a piece on AL’s talented two-man sous chef team. Shortly afterwards, he was promoted to chef de cuisine as AL’s earned a Michelin Star. Before that, he and London met in the trenches of Napa Valley’s pioneering Ubuntu, the first vegetarian restaurant in the world to win a Michelin star.
So, it’s safe to assume the guy has some chops; an increasing a rarity in Portland these days. The question, as with all cooks from storied kitchens: can they create as well as they can execute?
Like with AL’s, Benedict’s plan is to make veg-driven cooking the show, with 15-20 ever-changing plates. One dish that caught my eye: tomato tartare, which subs oven-dried heirloom tomatoes for the usual raw steak, chopped up with traditional accompaniments. But clearly, he’s done his Portland homework: the menu’s breakout might be the “Super Tot,” a foot-long tater, with creme fraiche dip, basil oil, and trout roe marinated in preserved lime.
Meanwhile, proteins like “charred hangar steak and gouda fondue” will be served as “sides,” in four-ounce portions—what Benedict calls a “reverse steakhouse approach.” Desserts, one of Benedict’s personal passions, will run from berries on the vine with custard to a push-pop that layers salted butter semifreddo, berry jam, and malted milk crumble. Rounding out the menu: a small list of wines, cider, and beers, many—but not all—local, plus produce-driven cocktails sporting carrot juice and roasted beets.
The ace in his pocket? His parents’ 62-acre Olde Moon Farm in Silverton, Oregon. His menu will be inspired by daily deliveries of a wild range of herbs, greens, and heirloom varieties like the near-black Dark Galaxy tomato. “As soon as they bought it, I pitched my plan and co-opted their retirement,” he says, belting out one of his frequent laughs. The goal is also for G-Love’s kitchen crew to be part of the harvesting team.
G-Love hopes to follow in the path of its leaf-to-stem heroes. AL’s Place is known for its “zero waste” approach, and Ubuntu was making carrot top pesto when most people thought “carrot top” was a weird comedian-actor.
So why G-Love? Benedict says it’s been his nickname since age 13, bestowed by a neighbor girl in his home town of Anchorage, Alaska. He’s had other nicknames, he says. In culinary school, he was “Long Arms,” because at 6-foot 2-inches, he could reach pots high up on shelves. And, of course, “Eggs.” “But most everyone calls me G-Love,” he confesses. “I loved having a rock star name in high school. Plus, who wants a restaurant called Eggs Benedict?” Good point.