Well before Portland became a premier food destination—back when our biggest celebrity was Art Alexakis—Vitaly Paley and his wife opened this 50-seat restaurant in a house with a covered porch on 21st.

The USSR-born Paley immigrated from Kiev to train as a concert pianist at Juilliard. Two years into his studies, Paley shifted his instrument to food, graduating from the French Culinary Institute, and apprenticing around New York and west-central France. The restaurant's layout is offbeat, though the outstanding service and tasteful décor allays any lack of feng shui.

Photo: Lauren Kinkade
Photo: Lauren Kinkade

The steak tartare—hand-chopped raw wagyu studded with onion and capers and sauced with the rich duck egg—is stunning spooned onto grilled toast. Those looking for exceptional food at reasonable prices should hit happy hour, when chefs send out duck wings and cheddar burgers on brioche for $7 and $8. There's a reason Paley's has been around 20 years, with kitchens conscientiously churning out fussed-over dishes without pretension. Paley oversees two other restaurants (Imperial and Penny Diner), yet at Paley's Place, the kitchen hums along even more smoothly than 20 years ago.

Photo: Lauren Kinkade
Photo: Lauren Kinkade

Pro tip: As tempting as a tasting menu may be, you're best off starting with the tartare and just following the flow of the evening.

GO: 1204 NW 21st Ave., 243-2403, paleysplace.net. 5:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-9:30 pm Sunday. $$$-$$$$.