An “Oregon ” Point of The Knife….Opinion

Oct 01

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Restaurants and chefs are the new ” Rock Stars and their Bands ” ! It seems that if it  happened on the Portland restaurant and chef’s scene before the internet…no one knows about it or remembers it . Not anyone’s fault . Instantly , we can go to that world wide web and know the truth ( really -it’s the truth?) ) . Of course , if it wasn’t entered online and it happened a long time ago , today’s habits would dictate that  foodies will not bother to look further . (after all, who liked history in school? ) The latest dishes…the most outrageous “new” foodie trends and the people responsible are what folks want to talk about . It’s always been that way ; it’s  just that now” food as  hobby and chefs as celebrity” is at the forefront in our USA culture .

Portland  (and Oregon of course ) are giants on the food scene . The New York Times loves us . A US News and World Report article on Feb. 24 stated that we have the Best Street Food in the World ! That’s pretty darn good . Major accomplishments  for such a small city and population . How did that happen ? Lots of talented and hard working , food loving people…that’s how.

What prompted this to occur ? Why in Oregon ? Is it the superior produce and wonderful ingredients like salmon , berries , and such . No, I don’t think so . I’m not trying to write the definitive history of the “Foodie Craze ” in Oregon (Somebody should do that …but properly  ) . I just want to make the point that if without dozens of dedicated pioneers here doing what they were passionate about ; determined to make their mark and put a product or an atmosphere in place the customer would love – would we have the opportunity for our heroes to do so today ? We have such a collection of greats plying their trade nowadays ! I feel …led by Vitaly Paley at his new IMPERIAL  at Hotel Lucia , John Taboada of famed LUCE , Gabriel Rucker -Le PIGEON , Andy Ricker of POK POK fame , Tommy Habetz and his BUNK empire , David Farrell of CABEZON Restaurant and many more that I will not try to list here , that Portland and Oregon can hold our own with most cities in the USA !

A recent phone interview with Michael Russell -restaurant critic of The Oregonian– with Caprial and John Pence featured their new venture –  ” Basa Basa ” , a Korean fried chicken spot in The Ocean complex . Evidently this is a mythical fire breathing Korean Chicken monster, and the sound of it’s wings ….. at least . It is good to have Caprial back in the limelight and I hope they have great success . I’ll sure give it a try .

Caprial mentions that Greg Higgins of Higgins , herself , Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place …part of a group of five established the movement in Portland and Oregon that ” turned us into a food mecca “ . Is that really the case ? No farms ? No bread ? In the early 80’s ,  Hubert Loevenbruck opened Le Panier with wonderful French bread ; made in imported French ovens . He also brought us an expanded selection of cheeses and European delicasies with Eurobest. (eventually selling and moving all to Seattle ) No farms…are you kidding ? I had the pleasure of having two enterprising Oregon State agriculture school co-eds grow fresh shallots for me on their family farm in Albany in 1977 !  A free spirited couple renting a farm in Cornelius planted their whole crop in Sweet Basil for me in 1978 ! I had come from Marin County in the Bay area and I wanted Belinda’s to offer the best to my customers . I was one of the first customers of Roger -The Mussel Man ; my menu featured Veal Sweetbreads , Fresh Skate , Shad Roe  and more . I was buying  fresh pheasant from a farmer in Scappoose ; a young woman knocked on my back door one day and asked if I’d like to buy fresh rabbits from her farm in Hillsboro , ” Of course , I said .” I bought fresh veal from a rancher in Junction City who was bucking the trend and trying to raise them properly –  he even delivered it !

There were valuable and talented chefs in Portland laying the groundwork before 1982 and Caprial and John’s purchase of Westmoreland Bistro ; later Caprial’s Kitchen . There was the Swiss Echo in Beaverton , Thyme Garden in SE Portland , Silver Garden in the produce district near Produce Row Cafe . Jimella Lucas made people want to return to Jake’s Famous Crawfish . Xavier Bauser for decades was quietly doing magical things as Executive Chef at The Benson Hotel .  Karl Schaeffer had a consistent and loyal following on West Burnside with his little gem-Le Cuisinier . We cannot forget Stephanie Kimmel of Marche , started  Excelsior in Eugene-a fantastic place for the 70′ S . There are too many to mention ….. but here are a few more : Steamboat Inn in Southern Oregon  and Chanticleer in Ashland ;  John Gray’s Salishan Lodge on the coast always had marvelous food and talented chefs ; the Forest Inn at Alder Creek on the way to Mt . Hood had a loyal following . New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro owners started in California and located many years ago to Talent ,Oregon-their food is consistently great .

In Portland we have had memorable and marvelous restaurants such as L’Omelette , The Couch Street Fish House , L’Escargot and L’Auberge in NW Portland , Cafe Des Amis , 2601 Vaughan , Pettygrove House , and of course ….still operating  today, Genoa . However , my all time nostalgic favorite is Henry Thiele’s on West Burnside and NW 23 rd. Originally opened in 1932 , it closed in 1990 . I must not forget another Portland restaurant institution…still owned by the Louie family since the turn of the 20 TH centuryHuber’s ! Carving fresh roast turkey and pouring those flaming Spanish Coffees for happy customers year after year .

Someone said , somewhere, some time , ” Well , that’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ with it ! ” I can live with that .

IN CLOSING –  I offer mention of my favorite quote . One that is on most of my correspondence and is especially good at keeping me on track ….and especially grounded : ” IF YOU MUST EAT CROW , ALWAYS MAKE SURE IT HAS A GOOD SAUCE ! “

***I know I have left out dozens and dozens of favorites from past years . Feel free to remind me with a mention .

 

5 comments

  1. Julia /

    Bravo!

    • Thank you Julia . I just wanted to get some information in place that would explain some food history events/facts many would not know took place .

  2. Chantal /

    Always a fun and exciting read! Thanks for filling us youngsters in on the good ‘ol days.
    Cheers!

    • It’s always good to recall how things evolved and grew , I say . All of those restaurants , chefs and hard working food and hospitality folks had one thing in common with the same people of today . Serve great food , pass on warm surroundings and good service to the customers ; same ideas , same energy , different people and times . Neither is better than the other . Tapalaya is one of today’s examples, Chantal.

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