Opened by chef Vitaly Paley and his wife, Kimberly, in 1995, the Nob Hill restaurant Paley's Place is known for its Pacific Northwest-meets-French cuisine, for which Vitaly Paley earned a James Beard Best Chef award in 2005. The iconic farm-to-table restaurant, situated in a Victorian home on NW 21st Avenue, was also named a Portland Monthly Best Restaurant in 2007 and 2008. Over the years, the Paleys’ empire grew to include several hotel restaurants: Headwaters, Imperial, the Crown. But the pandemic brought unexpected challenges even for some of the city’s most well-established eateries—the Paleys shut down all of their restaurants in 2020, except for Paley’s Place. Today, the Oregonian broke the news that Paley’s Place, too, will close its doors after Thanksgiving, reporting that the couple plan to sell the building and retire.
Vitaly Paley is a massive figure in Portland’s restaurant scene not only for his style of cuisine—there aren’t many other places in Portland where you’ll find escargot next to a burger on the menu—but for the role he played in other chefs’ careers, as Portland Monthly writer Camas Davis wrote more than a decade ago.
“Among the pioneers of Portland cuisine, there may well be no chef more skilled than Vitaly Paley, whose composed French- and Pacific Northwest–inspired dishes are the picture of perfected technique and exacting creativity,” wrote Davis in PoMo’s Best Restaurants issue back in 2008, by which time the Paley's Place was already an institution. “Perhaps because of his background, he brings a sense of European finesse and urban sophistication to each of his dishes. These range from a classic escargot à la Bordelaise with roasted marrow bones and garlic-rubbed toast to melt-in-your-mouth ravioli filled with a sunny yellow egg yolk and goat cheese.
... It’s often said that just about every chef in Portland owes some part of his or her success to Paley, whether by working in his kitchen or enjoying a meal at his bar. If it stays that way for another decade, we won’t complain.”
At his other restaurants, Paley demonstrated his range: pizza at the Crown, seafood at Headwaters, legendary fried chicken at Imperial. When Imperial shuttered in September 2020, the Paleys directed all their energy toward Paley’s Place. They experimented with multicourse take-home meals and weekly pantry boxes while offering indoor and outdoor dining. They also instituted a $50 minimum on all dine-in tabs. In an interview with Brooks, Paley explained that Paley’s Place needed these higher tabs in order to survive in the changing world of fine dining that was further altered by coronavirus.
“The new generation of today will eventually get older," Paley told PoMo's Karen Brooks a year ago. "Will they want to keep standing in line for pancakes or be in a relaxed atmosphere, taken care of? Hospitality will never die. Back in the day, we pushed back on the moniker of ‘special occasion.’ We just wanted people to walk in and have mussels and fries. Realistically, that won’t pay the bills now. It barely did then. Restaurant economies were on the fritz for years; COVID just exposed that. Today, with limited capacity, we can’t afford that.”
Paley announced the closing in a newsletter. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve you at Paley's Place for 26 years, and on that sky-high note, we have made the decision to close the restaurant at the end of this year,” the note read. “The events of the last year and a half have given us all time to reflect on what's most important, and that was certainly true for us. This next chapter in our lives will be about the two of us, charting out a new life together, whatever that may be.” Paley could not be reached for comment as of press time.