1204 NW 21st Ave 503-243-2403 paleysplace.net
Long before food became Portland’s proxy for emotion and an outlet for its unstoppable creative drive, Vitaly and Kimberly Paley opened Paley’s Place. For 14 years since, it has remained at the zenith of Portland restaurants because of Vitaly’s mad creativity (testa rossa—pig head—à la Cryovac, anyone?) and the couple’s resolve to imbue each experiment with the joy and precision of a flawless opening-night performance. Back full time after publishing The Paley’s Place Cookbook, the chef is running on an all-time high.
Close contenders: Carlyle, Higgins
After early careers as, respectively, a dancer and a concert pianist, Kimberley and Vitaly Paley met while working for World Yacht Cruises. They did their time at New York eateries like Union Square Café and Chanterelle (him), Alison on Dominick’s and Bouley (her), and Moulin de la Gorce in Limoges, France (together). Inspired by Oregon’s wine scene, they moved to Portland in 1995. Not knowing a soul in the restaurant biz, they opted to build their network at the source—local farms—“without it being the hip thing that it is now,” Kimberly says. When asked about his inspirations, Vitaly says, “Sometimes it’s an ingredient, sometimes a preparation, sometimes a memory of something that I’ve seen.”
The food is whimsical, earthy, and decadent. Consider one simple meal: a romaine salad, charcuterie, ravioli, pork shoulder with polenta. The salad is drenched in a steak-house favorite—ranch dressing—made with oven-dried vegetable chips, buttermilk, aioli, sour cream, and cider vinegar. The charcuterie is that testa rossa slow-cooked in vacuum-sealed plastic (a technique known as sous vide), and the ravioli, made using only the yolks of duck eggs, is filled with spiced rabbit and fennel pollen. Grilled rather than braised, the pork shoulder sits atop polenta mashed from fresh grated corn. End your meal with chocolate soufflé cake served with toasted hazelnuts and honey-vanilla ice cream. —EH