Seventeen months ago, when Los Angeles chef Thomas Boyce strode into Bluehour’s kitchen, fresh from the trenches of LA’s high-flying Spago, it looked like a coup for both sides. Boyce got a big stage to build a local reputation; Bluehour got a serious talent capable of turning the Pearl District charmer into a food destination. It didn’t turn out as expected.
As of Tuesday, Boyce was out and Dolan Lane, chef at Clarklewis on SE Water Avenue, was in. Bluehour’s Bruce Carey and Joe Rogers own both restaurants. Boyce says he was taken completely by surprise.
“He’s a fabulous chef. Amazing food,” says Carey of Boyce. “But Bluehour was becoming too special occasion under his direction. Dolan has had tremendous success at Clarklewis. He wants more.”
The move comes during a radical shake-up in the local fine dining scene. A few weeks ago, acclaimed chef Daniel Monkok departed abruptly from Paulée, a budding wine country destination. Mondok’s blend of foams and foraging drew national attention, but response from the local community has been mixed. Genoa’s David Anderson was just ousted in favor of modernist-leaning Jake Martin, as the multi-decade Italian institution seeks to refine its identity while appealing “to diners in jeans.”
Boyce’s cooking is more rustic elegant than experimental modern, but perhaps his veal cheeks, octopus terrines, and purslane salads were too far afield for Bluehour regulars. Lane has found an audience for simple, seasonal, contemporary American food, executed with conviction. “It’s a bottom-line decision,” says Boyce. “Bluehour was getting a lot of props for its bar food when I first came. I focused more on the food in dining room. There was a shift away from sales in the bar. It was a different direction.”
What’s next for Boyce? “Thinking about my own place, doing my own thing. The food I want to eat.”
To Boyce, it’s finding the right mix of personal approach and sophisticated flavor. Fine dining, he insists, isn’t dead in Portland. “Places like (New York’s) Le Bernardin are amazing, but really inaccessible for most people. Le Pigeon works here because it’s ultimately unfussy and casual, but respects quality. That’s the best thing Portland has going, a lack of pomp and pretention. The rest of the country is going in that direction. I’m planning my next move. Better things are ahead of me.”