NOTHING ABOUT the generic hotel façade off Highway 99 hints at what waits inside: wine country’s most ambitious food gambit. Step inside the new Paulée to witness the big-city gleam of stone, steel, and glass that fills the generous 90-seat restaurant, clad in dark walnut. A 14-foot glass wine cellar—a thousand bottles strong, and deep in Northwest grapes—anchors the room. Meats come from down the road, and nearly half the produce is grown next door—pristine fodder for the studied experiments that arrive stacked like still lifes on stark white plates. Protruding into the dining room is a chef’s counter—the stage for a full battalion of aproned chefs tweezing away at all manner of precious Willamette Valley provenance.
Chef-owner Daniel Mondok won accolades in Portland for his mash-up of French technique and American quirk at Sel Gris on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. But that tiny gem fell to fire damage in 2009. At Paulée, he’s still throwing witty culinary jabs, but with globe-hopping twists and modernist presentations—what he calls “Sel Gris on steroids.”
Categories roam freely from tartares to pasta-based dishes to very French meat treatments. King salmon with cracker-crisp skin arrives over “Israeli couscous mac and cheese,” tossed with cheddar-like Cantal and a wink of haute Kraft. Flavors and inclinations draw from every corner of the planet: deep-fried cuttlefish tossed in a bath of Vietnamese nuoc cham—fish sauce, lime, sambal, and sugar—and duck breast, crusted in Sichuan peppercorns, boasts the earthy smoke of black tea jus.
The drink program impresses, with 48 enomatic wines on tap and 10 on the perlage (sparkling preservation) system. Sommelier Brandon Tebbe pours rare vintages and smartly advises tricky pairings to Mondok’s food-craft. After all, this is still wine country.