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Travel Tip: Portland Restaurants

A thriving food and wine scene abounds with bohemian charm

Tim Fish
Posted: September 16, 2013

Note: This is an excerpt of an article, "The New Portland," that originally appeared in the September 30, 2013 issue of Wine Spectator.

The culinary scene in Portland, Ore., is undergoing a revolution, with dozens of new restaurants and wine bars opening. The city is also home to more than 500 food trucks and carts, one of the densest concentrations in the United States—all for a population of just 600,000. It's a place with a distinctive personality, a laid-back West Coast atmosphere with the rusty veneer of an East Coast port. While Portland has many worthy, long-established dining rooms, such as the Heathman and Paley's Place, the focus here is on what's new.

WHERE TO EAT

IMPERIAL
410 S.W. Broadway
Telephone: (503) 228-7222
Website: www.imperial-pdx.com
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $14-$38
Credit cards: All major

Chef Vitaly Paley, one of the stalwarts of Northwestern cuisine, opened Imperial in 2012, and it's a fine addition to downtown Portland. Located in the stylish Hotel Lucia, the dining room is big and inviting, with exposed brick and colorful tile accents. The centerpiece is the wood-fired grill and rotisserie, and the menu presents a sizzling selection of comfort food: pork chops, grilled quail and fish, burgers and salads. Service is a bit more polished than most recent Portland openings, and the wine list has about 150 selections, with a good showing from Oregon. Markup is reasonable, ranging from Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2010 for $61 to Château Léoville Las Cases 1989 for $400.

LITTLE BIRD BISTRO
219 S.W. Sixth Ave.
Telephone (503) 688-5952
Website: www.littlebirdbistro.com
Open: Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $18-$30
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

This French bistro is one of the savviest newcomers to the culinary scene. The more traditional counterpart to Le Pigeon—both restaurants are owned by talented chef Gabriel Rucker—Little Bird resides in a restored downtown storefront with a tin ceiling, rear balcony and copper-top bar. The menu offers bistro classics such as cassoulet and seared duck breast, with the occasional twist. Steak tartare is paired with crispy boquerones, and trout comes chicken-fried with sauce gribiche. It's all impeccably done. The wine list features 120 selections, mostly from France. Wines are generally priced below $100 and range from Château de Fontenille Blanc Entre-deux-Mers 2011 for $36 to Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 at $525.

NOISETTE
1937 N.W. 23rd Place
Telephone: (503) 719-4599
Website: www.noisetterestaurant.com
Open: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Prix-fixe menu $85
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Noisette is a rare find in Portland: a white-tablecloth restaurant dedicated to fine dining. An intimate space with only 34 seats, it's set in a stylishly transformed century-old house in the trendy Northwest neighborhood. Chef-owner Tony Demes is hands-on, working with a small staff to craft an eight-course French-influenced tasting menu, artfully presented at a leisurely pace. Oregon tuna tartare is made vibrant with a black garlic sauce, and pan-roasted Chinook salmon is paired with morels and parsley-mussel jus. A small-plate menu is available for those who want to sample a few dishes.

Wine director Anthony Garcia has packed a lot of variety in his 180-bottle list, offering fine selections from France, the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Markups are standard, ranging from Bergström Chardonnay Old Stones Willamette Valley 2011 for $60 to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-St.-Vivant 2009 for $1,900. The by-the-glass list is small, but wine pairings for each course are available for a $50 fee.

OLYMPIC PROVISIONS
107 S.E. Washington St.
Telephone: (503) 954-3663
Website: www.olympicprovisions.com
Open: Lunch, daily; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $15-$25
Credit cards: All major

Few establishments sum up Portland's food culture better than Olympic Provisions. The original restaurant (a second venue opened across town on N.W. Thurman Street) is situated inside a restored industrial building in Southeast Portland. The dining room is an eccentric mix of exposed steel, concrete and institutional white tile. The tattoo quotient in the kitchen is off the charts, and a sign glows "Meat" in big red letters. The food and wine experience is similarly untraditional. The menu's main influence is rustic and hearty Mediterranean cooking, and the housemade charcuterie is a must, but you'll also find moist roast chicken with spaetzle and seared flat iron steak coming from chef Alex Yoder's stoves. The wine list, with about 120 selections, is eclectic and worldly, and most bottles cost $60 or less.

OX
2225 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Telephone: (503) 284-3366
Website: www.oxpdx.com
Open: Dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost: Entrées $19-$75
Credit cards: All major

Ox is the sort of restaurant you wish you had in your neighborhood. The atmosphere is inviting, with exposed brick and a wood-fired grill, and the service is friendly and skilled. A fun wine list and great food round out the experience. Portland chefs Greg and Gabi Denton opened Ox about a year ago and it has since become a destination. The restaurant doesn't take reservations, so there is often a line outside.

Beef is the main attraction here, so grab a stool at the chef's bar for a front-row seat to the revolving Argentine grill. The "small" rib eye is tender, intensely flavored and big enough for two—a plus since there are so many intriguing side dishes, including grilled radicchio gratin and roasted artichokes. Be sure to start with spicy braised octopus and beef tripe with mint aioli. The compact wine list, offering about 80 selections, is strong on South America, Spain and France, with most bottles less than $60.

THE WOODSMAN TAVERN
4537 S.E. Division St.
Telephone (971) 373-8264
Website: www.woodsmantavern.com
Open: Dinner, nightly; brunch, Saturday and Sunday
Cost: Entrées $22-$30
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

The atmosphere of the Woodsman hews to what many would consider the traditional image of a Pacific Northwest tavern. There's a certain self-consciousness to this decor—the dark-wood walls are decorated salon-style with paintings of mountains—but the rustic touches are all part of the welcoming vibe. The raw bar here is first-rate and the menu is filled with comfort food standouts and some more ambitious plates. Starters range from a selection of country ham to smoked trout to baby gem lettuce with mint, and entrées include full-flavored dishes such as pork-garlic sausage and grilled Chinook salmon. There are about 200 wines on the list, consisting of options from Oregon, France, Spain and Italy. It's a bonanza for rosé lovers and markup is low, with Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2010 at $34 and Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins 2001 for $450.


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