Steering clear of the one-size-fits-all chain restaurant box, Paley’s Place has made its mark on the West Coast restaurant scene with a distinctive convergence of French, Eastern European and Pacific Northwest influences, and dynamic emphasis on local, sustainable and seasonal. The intimate charm is found amidst a historic Victorian house in the Northwest District of Portland, seating a mere 50 patrons. With a cozy front porch, open air patio and two dining rooms, one gets the sensation of stepping into the home of close friends.

Kimberly Paley, general manager and co-owner, became a front-of-house maverick after putting in her time at Bouley, Gotham Bar & Grill and Alison, while chef and co-owner Vitaly Paley earned his culinary chops in the hot kitchens of Remi, Chanterelle, and Union Square Café. The two foodies met eyes while working at Moulin de la Gorce, a two-star Michelin restaurant in France and well, as they say, the rest is history.

In “The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories From the Pacific Northwest,” the Paleys illuminate why they couldn’t help but pick Portland as their final destination to start a restaurant due to the region’s access to superior ingredients. “Oregon reminded us of France, where ingredients are stars. In New York’s kitchens, I saw you could get anything any time. I also noticed that not much came from close by. While Kimberly and I didn’t necessarily want ours to be a French restaurant, we knew we wanted to sustain what we learned in France about being closer to the sources of food.”

The cookbook won the Best Regional Cookbook award by Epicurious in 2008, in part for sharing genuine, personal narratives that help the reader get to know the restaurant’s farm suppliers, such as greens and garlic grower, George Weppler and third generation potato guru Gene Thiel. Chef Paley was also recognized with the James Beard Award for “Best Chef of the Northwest” in 2005 for his advanced culinary technique and dedication to supporting local farm-to-table food of the Pacific Northwest. With a menu that changes daily, his muse comes from such local gems as Highland Oak Farm grass-finished beef, Quinault River Steelhead from the prized fisheries of the Quinault reservation and fresh veggies from the likes of Creative Growers Organic Farm.

If your winter taste buds take a gander at Paley’s most recent menu, you might observe some daring seasonal dishes including Rabbit Ravioli with bacon or Oregon Dungeness Crab Risotto enhanced by wild mushrooms and white truffle butter. Local flavor doesn’t desert the dessert, with Oregon candied kumquats finding their way into the Chèvre Cheesecake of winter citrus, sugared almonds and pistachios. Meanwhile, heirloom squash hides graciously among the delicate morsels of Warm Financier Cake with golden raisin verjus beneath a milk chocolate sherbet.

Their Sustainable Seafood Sundays draw a crowd, an event created with the intention of teaching diners about local, sustainable seafood options while tasting it for themselves. These dinners foster a conversation about the environmental issues behind how and where fish is caught, with the hopes that customers will leave with the knowledge to make more conscientious seafood choices.

Paley’s has gone so far as to create their own line of organic bars which they sell at specialty grocers and gourmet cheese shops. One favorite is Handmade at Paley’s Fruit & Nut Bar, a dense cheese condiment Paley came up with when he was unable to find a quality companion for his cheese menu.

The recipes of this Northwest star have caught the gaze of the New York Times, Bon Appétit, Wine Enthusiast, NPR and even Oprah Magazine, with whom Paley shares his enthusiasm for seasonal cuisine: “As the [cherry] harvest begins, I literally lie awake thinking about what I’m going to cook tomorrow. The beauty of seasonal cooking is that you get to rediscover an ingredient every time it reappears.”

Chef Paley’s culinary prowess secured him a spot on “Iron Chef America” in 2011, where he reigned victorious over Chef Jose Garces in a radish battle, claiming that being from the Soviet republic of Belarus gave him a leg up on how to utilize the entire radish plant in a variety of ways.

For those strolling down lovers’ lane to Paley’s Place for that romantic day in February, have a seat in their bar and bistro for a local bottle of Riesling from the Willamette Valley, aptly named Love and Squalor (2010) – while there still is a seat, that is…

1204 Northwest 21st Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209
(503) 243-2403

Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reprinted with permission from Goodlife Report.