Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.
That chef Sarah Schafer grew up in Boston seems coincidence, but her cheery yet edgy Irving Street Kitchen with its skillful work using regional ingredients, Southern drawl and inviting bar makes for a restaurant with a strong neighborhood corner vibe.
Were sort of a Southern-inspired restaurant, but we use West Coast flavors and local and sustainable ingredients, Schafer said. With every dish I make, theres a comfort without being rustic if that makes sense that I think I get from the Boston side, and theres a certain elegance and finesse that I think I honed from San Francisco.
And it fits snugly into this corner of the Pearl District, surrounded by upscale apartment buildings and across the street from a two-story fitness center.
Its comfortable fine dining, and theres absolutely not a dress code, wine director Leah Moorhead said. The Pearl offers a live/work relationship. A lot of our guests live in these beautiful buildings, and if they just got out of the gym and want to finish their day with us, you literally feel comfortable here. I love that about this place. You can take it at your own pace.
Just inside the entrance, the waiting area also doubles as an unofficial lounge. Low-lying, well-worn couches surrounded by brick are so comfortable they hold you hostage until that drink is history. In one portion of the dining room, tables are separated by waist-high bookshelves lined with classics.
Finding ISK isnt like going through a maze, either, particularly for those arriving from I-405, which is just two blocks to the west.
I think were in the best part of the neighborhood, Schafer said. Up toward Burnside, its a bit busier, a lot more hectic and you cant find anywhere to park. Ever. Down here, its a little more softer with a little more space. You can walk everywhere here in the Pearl.
And the restaurant concept works at this Stock & Bones property. The template was created at their headquarters in the Bay Area by Vancouver, B.C., native Doug Washington and New York sibling chefs Mitchell Rosenthal and Steven Rosenthal, who met while working at Wolfgang Pucks Bar Postrio in San Francisco.
They let me do whatever I want to do here, Schafer said. Im the chef/operator so I get to play, but we can also have a real conversation with each other. Theyve made the mistakes before, so if I call with a problem, theyll say, Oh yeah, thats happened to me, and heres how to handle it.
Irving Street Kitchen seems to reflect Schafers background if not a bit of her personality.
I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I was in high school, she said. My great-grandmother was an amazing cook. So was my mother. Lots of time watching Julia Child on public television, and I just always wanted to learn and grow and cook.
While still a teen, Schafer attended the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y. Upon graduation, she worked in the Napa Valley before returning to Boston, then headed for Manhattan. There, she trained at Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern. Schafer moved back to San Francisco, working more than three years at Frisson before her recruitment to open Anchor & Hope in 2008 near the Financial District.
Two years later, Stock & Bones offered her the chance to open Irving Street Kitchen. May marked the restaurants third anniversary.
I love it here. My brother and his family live here, and I havent been near family for 15 years, Schafer said. I love cycling, and I have more opportunity to do that here. Other than that, I just enjoy relaxing with my girlfriend, going to the beach or spending time with our little rescued pug, Olive.
Her humanitarian efforts go beyond pet adoption. Soon after arriving in Portland, Schafer continued her relationship with the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry program and assumed a leading role in Portlands Taste of the Nation campaign. Its no surprise the event features a number of Oregons top wineries.
I learned as a line cook how I could give back and help others, and Ive never forgotten that, Schafer said.
A lack of pretense begins to explain why the wine tap system fits so well at Irving Street Kitchen. Its Barrel to Bar program and its 11 taps showcase Oregon producers such as Anam Cara, Andrew Rich, Canas Feast, Chehalem, J. Christopher, Nuthatch and Tyrus Evan. Theres also Patit Creek Cellars in the Walla Walla Valley.
I think we were the first restaurant in Oregon to have wine taps, and our entire front bar is devoted to that, Schafer said. Its great because it allows us to have a personal relationship with each winery. They can create wines for our taps, and its a great outlet for them to showcase or test something in a smaller venue. Its great for the environment because of the (eliminated) glass, and its great for the restaurant because I dont have to charge as much as I would if the wines were bottled.
The tap system relies on argon, an inert gas, to keep oxygen away from the wines.
Its a super-fresh process that is great especially for whites and rosés when you want something bright, fresh, low-alcohol and thirst quenching, Moorhead said. We also have reds on tap that are part carbonic, but there are also serious reds that have seen barrel age and have been held back.
The taps allow Moorhead and her staff the ability to offer guests a taste or experience a flight of wines. Even the corkage policy is different at Irving Street Kitchen. The charge is $15 per bottle, with a limit of two personal bottles. However, it will waive one corkage for each bottle purchased off the list.
Bottle producers come from both sides of the Columbia River, ranging from Anne Amie, Brick House, Domaine Drouhin and Penner-Ash to Washington stalwarts such as Andrew Will, Betz, Five Star, Gramercy, Januik, Kiona and Long Shadows.
There are restaurants in Portland doing the Southern thing and restaurants in Portland that are about Northwest cuisine, but I feel that when you look at Irving Street Kitchen, you see a full package, Schafer said. Its what I learned in New York. Its the right food. Its the right service. Its the feel you get in this room. If you sit down and all you want to do is enjoy a bottle of wine, this is the perfect room for it.
And its no coincidence that she began to appreciate the concept of food and wine pairing while in Napa Valley.
I had an amazing meal at French Laundry, Schafer said. A friend whom I worked with at Gramercy was the sous chef there, and that was my ah-hah moment where it all came together.
Schafers happy hour menu offers a fun and honest introduction to Irving Street Kitchen. Tasty examples run from Truffle and Parmesan Fries to Shirred Egg with Anson Mills Grits, Smoked Raclette and Ham or Meatballs, Green Peppercorn Sauce and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes or Fried Pickles with Spicy Crème Fraiche. Each plate is $7 or less.
Schafers fanciful Match Maker recipes include bits of inspiration from those happy hour items. They chose to pair the Chehalem 2011 Gamay Noir with the Grilled Hanger Steak, Sautééd Kale, Fried Cheddar Grits and Mommas Sauce.
The wine is beautiful, Moorhead said. It drinks like Cru Beaujolais, a bright, beautiful, fresh spring red. Theres absolutely no tannin. It shows its typicity, its sense of place, and is a wine that can be paired with food.
Chehalems Gamay Noir, filled with fresh berry and black cherry flavors, along with notes of black walnut and black pepper, were an easy fit for the steak. Theres enough boldness to hang with the spicy sauce, and its juicy acidity and low alcohol allowed for the kale and grits to remain a part of the conversation.
When it came to The Four Graces lemony, flinty and fleshy 2012 Pinot Blanc, Schafer prepared Roasted Baby Beet Tartare Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Watercress with Candied Hazelnuts Melted Raclette.
I went for a more bold approach, which is why I picked the beet salad, she said. Its got beets. Its got horseradish. Its got Tabasco and Worcestershire bigger flavors. The wine stepped up to the plate and cut through all of it. I love that dynamic.
Chehalem Wines $24
2011 Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge
163 cases, 12.5% alcohol
It might be an obscure variety, but Gamay Noir long has been one of Harry Peterson-Nedrys favorite wines. And Chehalem has been around for three decades and two generations.
The Gamay is one of the first plantings we ever made at Ridgecrest Vineyard, said Wynne Peterson-Nedry, who has taken over the day-to-day winemaking for her father. And my father grows and makes what he likes to drink.
Harry said, I think thats a pretty good philosophy. That way if you cant sell it, you can at least drink it.
Hes grown this Burgundian variety since 1985 and began to showcase it in 1992, creating a proprietary blend named Cerise, the French word for cherry. For nearly 20 years, Chehalem worked with it in the Bourgogne Passetoutgrains style blending in about 20 percent Pinot Noir.
You pretty much could only get it in our tasting room, she said.
Gamay Noir has long been prized by some of the Willamette Valleys other top producers, including Adelsheim, Amity, Brickhouse and WillaKenzie. Historically, it ripens later than Pinot Noir, so Chehalem gets aggressive by dropping half its crop at veraison.
The 2011 vintage produced the latest harvest in Chehalems history, and it came in Nov. 1 at 1.9 tons per acre and 20 brix. The chemistry helped the finished wine arrive with a food-friendly profile of low alcohol, reduced oak and acidity measured at 3.2 pH.
Its juicy and fresh-picked blueberry, black currant and dark boysenberry aromas and flavors dont come with much of a tannin profile, in part because of 11 months spent in neutral oak.
The Gamay Noir is always a little bit lighter than our Pinot Noir, she said. The acid is a little bit higher, and theres more pepper intensity and tart cherry. Sometimes, the Pinot Noir shows more earthiness and black cherry. I see our Gamay as more of a summertime red. I like it for barbecues, something you grill or pizza.
Chehalem Winery, 31190 NE Veritas Lane, Newberg, OR 97132, 503-537-5553, chehalemwines.com.
Grilled Hanger Steak
4 eight-ounce hanger steaks, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 pinch of cayenne, more if you like spicy
1. Combine ingredients and marinate for two hours.
2. Grill to taste.
3. Serve with Mommas Sauce, Sautéed Kale and Crispy Cheddar Grits. (See recipes below. Note: The kale recipe should be started right before steak is ready to rest.)
2 yellow onions,chopped
375 ml dry Madeira-style wine
4 quarts beef or veal stock
3 tablespoons black peppercorns 2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown butter
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1. Caramelize onions.
2. Deglaze with Madeira-style wine and reduce to nearly dry (au sec).
3. Add stock, peppercorns and lemon juice.
4. Reduce until velvet in consistency. Finish with the brown butter and garlic.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 shallots, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 quarts Dino kale, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots, then sweat until translucent, about two minutes
2. Add chopped kale and continue to sauté until just wilted. Add lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Crispy Cheddar Grits
1 yellow onion, diced
1 head of garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup water
1 quart milk
2 cups grits
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cheddar cheese
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
2 cups panko bread crumbs
4 quarts of cooking oil
1. Sweat onion and garlic with butter in large pan, then add water and milk and bring to a simmer.
2. Whisk in grits and slowly cook for an hour.
3. Add salt, pepper and cheese then spread evenly on a quarter sheet pan and chill until stable.
4. Cut mixture into 1-inch by 3-inch matchsticks.
5. Keep the beaten eggs, flour and breadcrumbs in separate mixing bowls.
6. Starting with flour, lightly dredge the matchsticks of grits. Place the dredged grits into the egg wash, drain each stick until it is lightly coated. Add to the panko bowl and ensure that each stick is well-coated. Reserve.
7. Heat cooking oil in a six-quart stock pot to 350°F. Working in batches, fry the breaded grit sticks until golden brown, about three minutes each.
8. Drain on a paper towel. Serve immediately.
The Four Graces $24
2012 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley
1,675 cases, 13.7% alcohol
Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grab nearly all the headlines in Oregons Willamette Valley when it comes to white varieties. Thats why so many draw a blank when it comes to Pinot Blanc.
Thats a mistake, said Laurent Montalieu, perhaps the states busiest winemaker with about 40 clients.
There are only a few producers of Pinot Blanc, and nobody puts a great deal of effort into promoting it, Montalieu said. People are so focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but Pinot Blanc has done a great job for us, and were pleased with the quality.
Several wineries in British Columbias Okanagan Valley enjoy success with the variety. Barbara Philip, Canadas first female Master of Wine, devoted her dissertation to exploring Pinot Blanc as the provinces signature grape.
Yet few in the Pacific Northwest handle it better than Montalieu and The Four Graces. In fact, the Dundee Hills producer earned a Platinum from Wine Press Northwest last year for its 2011 Pinot Blanc.
But the variety is falling out of favor in Oregon. In 2009, there were 239 acres planted. By 2011, that dropped to 160. By comparison, there are nearly 2,600 acres of Pinot Gris in production and 950 acres of Chardonnay.
The Black Familys estate 5 acres of Pinot Blanc in the Dundee Hills date to 1995 and rank as among the oldest in the state for the variety. Elvenglade Vineyard in the nearby Yamhill-Carlton AVA contributes 10 percent to this Pinot Blanc.
The 2012 vintage has been widely heralded as remarkable in the Pacific Northwest, and Montalieu made the call to harvest from Black Family Estate Vineyard over two days Oct. 18-19. The crop came in at 3 tons per acre, rather low for a white grape, and he showcases the freshness and purity of this sublime grape by avoiding oak. That allows its fruit profile of pears, apple and pineapple to fully emerge.
The Four Graces, Black Family Estate Vineyard and tasting room, 9605 NE Fox Farm Road, Dundee, OR 97115, 800-245-2950, thefourgraces.com.
Roasted Baby Beet Tartare, Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Watercress with Candied Hazelnuts Melted Raclette
1 recipe of each: Roasted Baby Beets, Horseradish Cream, Candied Hazelnuts and Tarragon Vinegrette (see recipes below)
1 small wheel of raclette (a semi-firm cows milk cheese)
1 bunch of watercress
1. Place a small puddle of the horseradish cream on the plate and carefully run a spoon through it.
2. Mold the tartare alongside the horseradish.
3. Slice raclette, place on a toasted slice of baguette and melt.
4. Finish baby beet tartare with watercress that has been tossed with tarragon vinaigrette.
5. Add chopped hazelnuts and the slice of baguette with melted raclette.
Roasted Baby Beet Tartare
6 baby beets, 3 gold and 3 red
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup water
3 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
Tabasco sauce, a few drops
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1⁄3 cup capers
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Toss the cleaned beets in the oil, water and salt with the skins on. Roast at 350°F until tender.
2. Cool and peel beets cut into eighths.
3. Place in food processor with shallot, Worcestershire, Tabasco, vinegar, cornichons and capers. Pulse until minced.
4. Transfer to a bowl and add parsley and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.
1 horseradish root
1 cup crème fraiche
1. Grate the horseradish and add to crème fraiche. Allow mixture to sit overnight. Preferably 24 hours.
2. Push through a chinois, season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups soy oil
1 dash of cinnamon
1 dash of cayenne pepper
Shaved nutmeg, to taste
Salt, to taste
1. Par blanch hazelnuts for 45 seconds in hot water, drain well.
2.Toss the nuts in the sugar until coated, then pan fry in soy oil at about 325°F until crunchy. Drain.
3. Once theyre out of the oil and still hot, toss the nuts in the spices, then season with salt to taste. Reserve.
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 bunch tarragon, chopped
1 cup Arbequina olive oil
1. Mix the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.
CAROLYN WELLS-KRAMER is a photographer based out of McMinnville, Ore. You can find her online at www.cwkphotography.com.