Portland is the new L.A.

Don't panic—take a look at three new faces in PDX kitchens to see what I mean:

Until three months ago, Ten01's (1001 NW Couch St., 226-3463) Jack Yoss was executive chef at the glossy W hotel in L.A. The 31-year-old left a high-profile job in a world-class city to cook in Portland, Ore., and he's one reason why Ten01 doesn't suck anymore. Case in point: His sweet-corn bisque drizzled with lemon-herb crème fraîche is simple summer perfection, and his goat-cheese gnocchi will occupy your thoughts for at least 24 hours after consuming them.

Yoss originally hails from Vegas—land of gloss, boob jobs, jackpots and snowbirds. He took his first kitchen job at Caesar's Palace at age 17. Two years later he visited Portland and loved it. "I've always wanted to live in Portland...it's like a mini-San Francisco [Yoss cooked there, too]. And now it's coming up on the food scene."

At his W gig, the restaurant's farm-to-table philosophy consisted of management sending a consultant to drive each day to the local markets. From Ten01's central location, Yoss himself walks to them. A morning saunter to the Park Blocks last week resulted in an heirloom tomato- and squash blossom-salad on the restaurant's menu by suppertime. "I didn't have that luxury in L.A.," he says.

Yoss isn't the only bigwig new chef in PDX.

"Portland is the top new food city in the country," says Josh Moulton, a consultant with CB5 Restaurant Group who's been living here since spring to help open South Waterfront's Italian-inspired Aquariva (470 SW Hamilton Court, 802-5850) in the Avalon Hotel in May.

"Oregon farmers grow incredible stuff," he tells me excitedly. "When you have product like that, chefs are going to find it."

Moulton came from New York via, again, Los Angeles, and his résumé is a recruiter's dream. He cooked at Gramercy Tavern and Cafe Luxembourg in New York. While he was chef de cuisine at Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, he worked with our own Vitaly Paley, who started at USC plating desserts. Random trivia: Moulton was also a production chef for Martha Stewart's TV show and has appeared several times on the Food Network with Sara Moulton, his cousin.

Though Moulton returns to L.A. in September, he fancies the idea of one day returning to Portland to open a downtown gastro-pub. Why Portland? "In L.A., scene trumps food," he says. "Here, it's the reverse."

Despite some minor style snafus—spend five minutes at aquarivaportland.com for a complete understanding—Aquariva's on the right track. Its executive chef, Bluehour import Drew Lockett, creates small plates—like roasted asparagus with pecorino or black cod with savoy cabbage and black truffles—that are seriously good.

Still not convinced of the PDX-Cali connection? Clarklewis (1001 SE Water St., 235-2294) executive chef Daniel Mattern is another recent L.A. transplant. No stranger to Oregon, the Chicago native first cooked at Cafe Soriah in Eugene while he studied poly-sci at the University of Oregon 15 years ago. When the job opening at Clarklewis appeared after Chef Morgan Brownlow quit and new owner Bruce Carey signed on, he went for it.

He came from big L.A. kitchens like A.O.C., Lucques and, most recently, Campanile, along with his girlfriend, Clarklewis pastry ace Roxana Jullapat. "We love the ingredients, the sense of community...we can ride our bikes," says Mattern of PDX.

What's this all got to do with us locals? Well, let's just say that Portland's higher profile doesn't just mean higher real-estate values and more tourists flooding the Ace Hotel. It also means that we're not just a stepping stone or launch pad for kitchen careers anymore, but also a destination for marquee chefs. That's good news for local diners in the long run because, once here, Portland is a tough place to leave behind. Believe me—I've tried.