By Chris Angelus
We are living and eating at a time when there is practically a new restaurant or food-related business opening every single day in Portland. We have journalists devoted to those things, and bloggers and diners who flock to the food and chefs who are creating the next new thing. 20 years ago, though, there weren’t as many next new things. There were a handful of notable dining spots, long before there was a “scene” in Portland. There were places like Wildwood, Zefiro, Genoa, Higgins creating the platform for what was to happen starting about a decade later. That was long before I set foot in Portland and had my first dinner at Lucy’s Table on 21st Street, a short walk from this the Inn or Northrup Station, a place I am glad I chose for my first impression of Portland. Oddly, looking back, I have no idea what reference point I was using then for my three days in Portland, but somehow I didn’t get the message about the closest restaurant to my hotel, Paley’s Place. A little off-topic but fun to mention in the context of first impressions in Portland: I was traveling with my teenage sons across the country, and knowing I had my longest stay of the trip coming up in Portland, I went on the dating site du jour at the time and set up a date with a beautiful ginger-haired bellydancer—Kathleen. Who better to assist in having Portland first permeate my senses?
OK, back to this moment in time. Our PFA. Our dinner, in the back room at the beautiful Paley’s Place, ended up being a celebration of the Portland landmark’s 20th anniversary, and all things good about that. First, that Paley’s is still going strong, along with the addition of two new places to their partnership, Imperial and Portland Penny Diner, not to mention Vitaly’s new pop-up monthly gift to Portland, Da Net. So many others have come and gone in that time. And there are many new places in the news, so it makes sustaining a 20-year run even that much more remarkable. The solid foundation the Paleys have built means that when, in the span of a year, their two executive chefs who had been with them for years, moved on to new ventures, Paley’s not only hangs tough, it powers on. Imperial, in its third year, is now as strong as ever after Chef Doug Adams, under Mr. Paley’s wing for years, assumed the Chef de Cuisine role there and shocked everyone with a very strong showing on the current season of Bravo’s Top Chef. At Paley’s, Vitaly tapped another long time protégé, Luis Cabanas, to take over as Chef de Cuisine. During our dinner, Chef talked about how Chef Cabanas had started with him 15 years ago as a dishwasher, and worked very hard to now be able to become the second in command in a very important kitchen in the USA food world. And in that kitchen, the menu was tweaked and freshened to take on some of the Russian influence of chef Paley’s past that has been so well-received at Da Net.
We had the opportunity to sample a little of both, a nod to Paley’s Place’s past, as well as a taste of its present and future. Chef Paley narrated the stories of each item on the menu.
If you want to hear those stories, I suggest you come to a PFA! No cheating here. Nor can you taste on a blog. We can only tease you with pictures. These were mostly taken by my dear friend, Sammy of Nekosam Images. Sammy is one of the sweetest, most humbly talented photographers I know. She had to deal with really romantic, dark lighting. Sammy has a chef-love relationship with Chef Paley, and so having access to shoot in the kitchen (where the light was more favorable) created some joy that you can see on her face.
Their creations. See the menu above.
Chef Paley told a great story about this delicious Elk Pojarski, which I will ask him to write and share here soon. I simply won’t do the story justice.
Sammy shooting our incredible dessert (menu above)
It’s safe to say that our 24 guests were in Portland food heaven.
And the adventure doesn’t end at PFA dinners. PFAs are meant to endure. Some of Chef Paley’s favorites were on the docket for this adventure, and gift cards were included to Yama Sushi (which I tried a few days earlier and could see why a chef with Mr. Paley’s palate would be impressed enough to want to share it), Paley’s sister restaurant, Imperial, where I strongly suggest the fried chicken I order a week earlier, and the destination for our next adventure, Autentica. Super friendly chef Oswaldo Bibiano, most recently known for his Uno Mas taquerias, will put on quite a Guerroran party on May 21.