I was stuck in traffic driving into Portland, dealing with the results of insomnia for a couple nights and wondering why was I doing this? Why spend good money for food? But then people spend a lot to go to concerts and on clothing. So why is this any different?
The short answer was I came to eat really great food made by really great chefs. It was Chefs' Week in Portland, Oregon and the dinner was West Coast Modern at Ataula Restaurant. Helmed by Chef Gregory Gourdet who brought together a few of his friends like the super talented Mei Lin to serve up inspiration and innovation on a plate. Actually it was more like the Restaurant Rock Stars of the West Coast.
I entered Ataula, a really nice restaurant in North West Portland and was promptly seated by one of the very helpful waitstaff. I had hoped to try a few of the specialty teas from Smith Tea. Not seeing any tea on the menu I decided one glass of beer would be okay in my sleep deprived state. I ordered the Double Mountain + Chefs' Week Yacht Rock-Dry Hopped Indian Red Ale created by Chef Doug Adams of The Imperial. I was impressed at how good it was so a future road trip to Hood River is planned. We were offered a glass of Argyle Vintage Brut 2011 as Chef Gourdet and Ataula owner Chef Jose Chesa said a few words and we all toasted to the event and the chefs.
Meanwhile back in the kitchen there was some serious cooking going on. Did I mention Restaurant Rock Stars of the West Coast?
Servers began walking around with trays of our first appetizer. Each diner was offered a little sandwich created by Chef Jose Chesa. Made with aerated Valdeon Bocadillo, Tomato Jam, Olive Tapenade, Granny Smith Apple and Scarlet Frills mustard greens. All on a light baguette crisp. Valdeon Bocadillo is a Spanish blue cheese without that flavor that sometimes makes blue cheese not so friendly. It was light and fresh and very pleasing. Very nice way to start the evening repast. Chopped aside, Chef Chesa can make great food with cheese.
The second appetizer was from Chef Gregory Gourdet who dreamed up this lovely dish called Thai Lagoon. Grilled Mussel, Dungeness Crab, Octopus, Pickled Carrot, frozen whipped chili spiced Coconut Cream floating in a sea of Thai butterfly Pea Flower. Chef Gourdet has a better photo of his creation on his social media. Worth checking out.
That was quickly followed by Chef Gourdet's Top Chef cohort Chef Mei Lin's dish. Dinners were wowed by this gorgeous plate of Foie Gras Mousse with Nasturtium leaves, onion, Huckleberry and Minus 8 Vinegar with crisp crackers. Stunning dish that had people at my table begging for more. I was really happy to chat with Chef Mei later on. She is as delightful in person as on Top Chef, tough yet I got a feeling she has a sensitive side which really is something an artist needs to have. I definitely want more Mei food in the future. It will be fun to see how far she goes.
I had read that we would be getting ice cream created by Craig Thornton aka Wolvesmouth. I was not disappointed we didn't get ice cream. Instead there was a plate of Prawn, Albacore, Coctel Mariscos (seafood cocktail) Avocado with chilis, Poblano Tamale, Grape, and Oyster Crackers. Flying Fish provide the Tombo Hawaiian Albacore which was lightly seared. Years of eating Mexican food left no doubt to me that Chef Thornton nailed it. Amazing how much flavor he can pack into each bite. Another dish people were raving about and with good reason.
Wolvesden's chef Craig Thornton. I didn't get a chance to speak with him. I really hope he will return to Portland for more events. I know a couple people who have been lucky enough to dine at Wolvesden, Chef Thornton's supper club, so his presence here was the deciding factor for me to attend. Looking at photos of food he creates makes me want to plate things in all kinds of crazy ways and not always on plates. Now I know the flavor matches his amazing creations. I want more.
Vegetarian Chef Brian Skinner out of Vancouver, BC offered up a dish he called Carrot Forward. Glazed carrots, Quince gel, Smoked Almond, Buttermilk meringue, salt and vinegar potatoes nicely put together a very tasty dish. I was not familiar with Chef Skinner but I like that he does vegetarian fine dining and definitely would eat his food again. Going to keep this in mind for that one day I finally get to Vancouver.
Following that we were offered Chef Jose Chesa's second dish of the night. Squid Ink Cake, Tagliatelle, Yuzu, Smoked Purple Potato and Saffron. Absolutely loved this. The first bite or two of the squid ink cake didn't offer much but then I began to taste flavor of the seasonings which were amazing. Add to this the lovely flavor of the yuzu pasta and I was over the moon. Doug's beer went really well with this. I'd have this dish and that beer again in a flash.
I was able to talk with Chef Chesa who is a delightful and energetic guy. I will definitely be back at Ataula and also want to check out their new Puerto Rican pop-up Patria being handled by his wife Christina Baez and Natty Rodriguez.
Next up was the dish from Chef Justin Wills of Restaurant Beck located in Depoe Bay, Oregon. We were served True Cod, Guajillo Chili Mole, Nicuatole, Nettles and Duck Jus. True Cod has a strong taste which is why it's used for fish and chips. One person didn't like this but I found that mixing the ingredients a little made all the difference. Sweet and salty this dish was also very good. The nettle leaf is interesting because I read that Chef Wills is a forager so I will have to look into this. I'd love to learn more about foraging here in Oregon.
Chef Brian McCracken and Chef Dana Tough of Seattle's Spur and more served up Crispy Sweetbreads, Sunchoke, Kumquat, and Onion. My first time for eating sweetbreads. This was an interesting dish and I know if a person is going to try something unusual for the first time it's important to have it well made. I believe the sauce on the side was a very nice miso which worked well with the sweetbreads. I also experienced the taste of mint with this dish. I will be honest, this wasn't my favorite in part to my not being able to eat much fried food but I can appreciate the quality of this dish and other diners did like it.
End of the meal was Chef Gregory Gourdet's dessert. He put together Woodblock Chocolate, Curry Peanut, Freeze dried Banana, and Passion Fruit topped with Gold Leaf. I know it's hard to see but there was an excellent dark chocolate under those banana slices. Chef Gourdet is one of my favorite dessert chefs and he impressed everyone with this dish. Lots of wows around me.
I was almost done eating when I noticed there was a bit of commotion towards the open kitchen. Turned around to see this. Actually there were a lot more phones and cameras in the air. The chefs were posing for one of the media cameras reporting on the night and I guess most of the other diners joined in with the photo taking.
Personally I was happy to get this photo. Thank you chefs Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet for putting up with me being a bit hyper. I think it was a combo of lack of sleep, sugar rush and being so happy to eat the wonderful food. It was a great event, well run and definitely showed off West Coast modern dining at this time.
And now some links. Chefs' Week PDX has a few more events. There were still seats available for the final dinner tomorrow night and maybe for one of the dinners tonight. Plus the free after parties. You can find more information on their website here.
Ataula's website is here. Located at 1818 NW 23rd Pl. in Portland, Oregon.
I can see some tapas in my future.
I can see some tapas in my future.
Chef Gregory Gourdet delicious food can be found at Departure. Follow them on social media since that is where they announce his special dinners which are well worth going to.
And finally, Chef Mei Lin is busy traveling around so you might get lucky and try her cooking some time. Her Twitter account is here and she's going to be serving up food again with her fellow Top Chef best buddy Chef Melissa King! Information about that can be found here on Chef Lin's Instagram.
That was quite a night and quite a blog post to write up. I hope you enjoyed reading this and seeing the photos.