If you’re looking for an eatery in Portland with more European culinary pedigree than Bergerac Bistro, you’ll never find one. One quick glance at the menu of this Woodstock gem will transport you to a world of fascinating flavors and romance: escargot persillé, confit de canard, and of course, vanilla crème brûlée. You’re thinking it, and I’m writing it—c’est magnifique!
The story behind this charming restaurant, which opened in 2015, is truly as rich as the French comfort food it serves. It all begins with husband-and-wife owners Joris and Gisella Barbaray, and like all of the best tales (and food, for that matter), it involves a healthy helping of love.
Under the fascist rule of Mussolini, Joris’s grandfather fled Italy to make a home in France. There, Joris’s father owned a butcher shop, and his mother ran a pizzeria. He himself grew up in Paris and then Bergerac, about an hour east of Bordeaux.
“It's a region rich in history, with gorgeous stone villages bordering the scenic Dordogne River, and it’s known for foie gras, duck confit, wines, fruits, and walnuts,” explains Gisella. “It actually has the same climate as Portland!”
Gisella was born to an American mother and a British-Swedish father, whose career in the hotel industry took the family to Paris (where Gisella learned French), Oslo, Brussels, and finally Kent—the county just southeast of London. Eventually, they opened an Indian restaurant, as well as a café and catering business with three locations.
Helping out with their families’ hospitality and culinary enterprises unsurprisingly set the Barbarays on the path to do the same, although Gisella earned a degree in jewelry design and operated her own studio for five years in between.
“We met in Val Thorens in the French Alps,” Gisella says. “I was working as a resort manager for a Scottish ski company, and Joris was a chef in the restaurant right next to the chalets where our guests stayed.” When the ski season ended, Joris accompanied Gisella back to England, and when their son was born in 2013, they began to look at moving to other countries to settle into a slower-paced life.
The presence of Gisella’s extended family in Portland (not to mention the skiing, foodie culture, and relatively reasonable house prices) brought them to the City of Roses. They celebrated their 11-year wedding anniversary last month and now have two children enrolled in a French immersion school.
When you sit down for a meal at Bergerac Bistro, indoors or out on the patios, all of the elements of the Barbarays’ background come to life on the table, in vivid taste and scintillating aroma. “We saw a gap in the market for French comfort food,” Gisella says. “We were looking to recreate the experience of bistros in bustling French cities, without fancy white tablecloths and overpriced wine. French food is generally viewed in America as high-end and expensive, and we are working hard to change that viewpoint.”
The cuisine leans heavily on Head Chef Joris’s culture and upbringing, featuring signatures that stay put while incorporating a rotation of seasonal menus that take full advantage of the local bounty. “I love to serve cassoulet in the winter months, and it will make an appearance later this year again,” Gisella says. “It’s slow-cooked, garlicky white beans with bacon and mustard, topped with homemade pork sausage and duck confit: the perfect winter dish.”
With the return of in-house dining and a fully vaccinated staff, Bergerac Bistro will soon revive its popular event dinners. On Thursday, November 4, guests are welcome to join for a four-course meal with a local mushroom forager, which will utilize matsutake, porcini, chanterelles, and candy cap varieties. In the past, they’ve presented collaborations with the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission, the Jasmine Pearl Tea Company, and several local wineries. And soon, Joris is planning on creating a game-based menu in partnership with Nicky USA, the premier purveyor of high-quality, specialty meats in the Northwest.
As for most restaurants, Covid-19 took a heavy toll on Bergerac, and the bistro had to open and close four times in the past 18 months. Nevertheless, they were able to successfully shift to takeout offerings, including a pasta menu, holiday prix fixe dinners, to-go cocktail kits, and reheatable dishes such as quiche or lasagna. Gisella adds, “These were a huge hit with our customers and helped us keep going.”
Upcoming renovations will provide new, wall-integrated seating and updated chairs, and the outdoor covered patio has been winterized with new lighting, more heaters, and fleece blankets; whatever your occasion, the atmosphere is appealingly cozy.
“We are in the business to make memories,” Gisella says. “We love guests celebrating milestones at Bergerac and believe that our service and exceptional food will transport you back to the little bistro of your vacations in France—or if you have not been, inspire you to go!”
5520 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97206