Southeast Division Street's new Bar Avignon has transformed the space that once belonged to vegetarian outpost Red & Black Cafe. The area that used to feature a newspaper clipping of Bruce Springsteen scrawled with the words, "The only boss we listen to," is now a sleek bar lined with bottles of single-malt scotch near an exposed kitchen crafting dishes like salt cod brandade and chicken liver pâté. The Boss has left the building.
In his place is a stellar wine list (most bottles are available "to go" for 25 percent off) and a chocolate and blue space with down-tempo music. Bar Avignon specializes in pre- and post-dinner drinks and small bites from Chef Chad Brown—not to say you can't make a meal out of a $10 panino if you want to.
The ever-changing meat and cheese boards are fun: Pick a cheese ($5 each), maybe a Rollingstone chèvre or Jasper Hill Farm blue, or cured meat (salami, sopresatta, bresaola) and an accompanying condiment ($1 each for more than one) like herb-roasted olives, dense Italian panforte fruitcake and Buzzing Canyon honey—hand-harvested Estacada. Whatever big tastes you choose arrive in Lilliputian portions with a few slices of baguette.
Other tasty options include the chilled leek and potato soup ($5) drizzled with olive oil, stirred with crème fraîche, and topped with slivered and fried almonds, and the salt cod brandade ($8). Bar Avignon's light and creamy take on this classic French fish bake is served with a baguette and tart housemade slaw.
If your appetite is more substantial, spring for that $10 panino. The restaurant layers moist and perfectly cooked pulled pork with grated manchego, wilted arugula, pickled peppers and a dijon-spiked aioli between pillow-soft slices of ciabatta. A mixed green salad with citrusy vinaigrette and house-pickled veggies comes with it.
Bar Avignon's owners, husband and wife Randy Goodman and Nancy Hunt, have plenty of PDX eats experience. Goodman was wine director at Wildwood for years while Hunt ran the bar at the much missed Cafe Azul. Even though they don't exactly heap praise on domestics, they do have the "Champagne of Beers" on tap ($2.50).
Signature Bar Avignon cocktails are top shelf and some may need deciphering—the Quattro Punti ($7) mixes bitter, aromatic Fernet Branca and Punt e Mes Italian vermouth on the rocks with a slice of orange. The Contrarian ($8) blends sweet Saracco Moscato with Vergano Americano, an Italian bitter. Less verbose drinks include draft micros ($4.50) and bottled and canned beers ($2-$14), along with single-malt scotches ($10-$12) and Kentucky bourbons ($6-$28).
There are also desserts to be had, from almond cake to crème brûlée (all $5), but who's gonna quibble if you drink your dessert instead?
Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division St., 517-0808. Dinner 4 pm-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday. Happy hour 4-6 pm Monday-Friday. $$ Moderate.