By Mattie John Bamman
As standouts like Imperial and Departure have shown, hotel dining in Portland doesn't have to be run of the mill.
With Il Solito, the new Italian-American restaurant replacing Pazzo Ristorante inside downtown's Hotel Vintage, Kimpton Hotels went big, nabbing chef Matt Sigler to lead the kitchen. Sigler was the executive chef of Renata, named The Oregonian's 2015 Restaurant of the Year after one month in operation. He left the restaurant in December 2017. Like many, I was excited to see where the high-profile chef would land.
Whereas Pazzo served old-school Italian, Il Solito hopped on the Italian-American food revival with menus full of East Coast-born classics: garlic knots, Caesar salads, prawn scampi, fusilli alla arrabbiata, chicken marsala. It blends Italian and American cultures and is especially comforting, famous for large portions, extra sauce—and lots of butter.
Sigler has Italian roots on both sides of his family. The menus, which span breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, are inspired by childhood meals, some with modern twists. All pastas are made in-house, either by pasta extruder or, in the case of stuffed pastas like agnolotti, by hand.
Before you navigate the bucatini and gravy, though, you must navigate Il Solito's many spaces. The bar's large, loungy seating area is a restaurant unto itself, with sidewalk seating for prime people-watching. The sprawling main dining room is engrossing. The massive open kitchen runs nearly the length of one wall, and with its partitions and alcoves, I always felt there was another nook to explore. Additionally, Bacchus Bar is attached to the hotel lobby, connected to Il Solito by a short hallway.
Overall, Il Solito is brighter and more playful than Pazzo. Black-and-white murals depict Italian feasts, with picture frames highlighting especially interesting characters, such as a cigarette-smoking nun and a rock dude with plugs and a nose ring who may or may not be trying too hard. The new seats and banquettes are especially cushioned and comfortable. And the restaurant flat out rejects white tablecloths.
Open for over a month, Il Solito is still building a following and, at times, has to contend with its sheer size. The sprawling dining room buzzes with conversation during dinner, but the space never seemed more than half full. At 1 pm on a Saturday—prime brunch hour—only one other table was occupied.
But that brunch delivers the welcome opportunity to eat pasta for breakfast. A riff on paglio e fieno ($22) featured the traditional pancetta, peas, cream and two noodles, one colored green with spinach, but added a perfectly poached egg for a spaghetti carbonara twist. The rich yolk easily blended in with just the right amount of cream, and the tagliolini noodles were delicate, almost melted in my mouth. The dish was slightly oversalted, but with pancetta involved, I didn't mind.
During dinner, a Caesar salad ($13) reached new heights with large, crunchy, deep-fried croutons that deftly stood up to the excellently old-school, anchovy- and garlic-rich dressing.
But aside from these plates, my meals at Il Solito consistently lacked harmony. The balsamic-glazed fried eggs ($11) served over crispy potatoes—a recommendation from our waiter—had the opposite issue of the paglio e fieno, being hopelessly undersalted. When a lunchtime chicken parm sandwich ($15) arrived featuring a truly mammoth chicken breast pounded thin, the first bite revealed a giant out of whack. The breading was light but sturdy, and melty smoked mozzarella poured down its titanic side like Willamette Falls, but the promised marinara was nonexistent.
Without the marinara's acidic edge, the sandwich grew monolithic and dry, which was a shame—with just a little more salt and a lot more tangy tomato, it would have been glorious.
Made in-house, the pastas have a toothsome foundation, but they were consistently off balance, usually due to just one overly domineering ingredient. The much-anticipated spaghetti and meatballs ($20) featured a sauce so diabolically sweet I incorrectly imagined I'd tasted molasses. With the ricotta ravioli ($24), lemon juice hits the palate just one second before the rest of the bite, dooming its ingredients to play second fiddle behind its piercing brightness.
One night, an agnolotti special arrived as a complimentary surprise, and if you read Yelp, you'll find it isn't an isolated incident at Il Solito. A nimble pasta dough held aged beef, and it came with a sauce of Gorgonzola fonduta and beef jus. I found the depth of flavor I craved, but it was too rich and heavy to finish, even sharing the dish with my companion.
Over several meals at Il Solito, I never felt inspired to try dessert. The menu is large, and the restaurant may still need time to settle, but the dishes weren't dialed in. Sigler has the experience and talent to right this ship. For now, though, Il Solito is not a destination.
GO: Il Solito, 627 SW Washington St., 503-228-1515, ilsolitoportland.com. Brunch 7:30-10:30 am, lunch 11 am-2:30 pm, dinner 5-10 pm Monday-Friday. 8 am-2:30 pm and 5-11 pm Saturday-Sunday.