It’s easy to miss the orange door next to the former Cellar Door Coffee Roasters location at the corner of Southeast 11th Avenue and Harrison Street. But when you spot that entryway, the color should indicate you’ve made it to one of Portland’s best new restaurants.
Here, in this home built in 1905 that was a telegram office, a butchery, and a couple of restaurants over its long history, L’Orange has set up shop, creating a space that feels cozy and well suited for a bohemian dinner party. The business is the brainchild of chef Joel Stocks (formerly of Holdfast Dining), who helms the tiny kitchen, and winemaker Jeff Vejr, of Les Caves and Les Clos. Billing itself as an “Old Portland” restaurant, L’Orange succeeds in giving people a focused, hyperseasonal, and unfussy menu that won’t break the bank.
Whether you’re sitting in the dining area or side lounge or cozying up to the bar, there’s an eclecticism that shines throughout L’Orange, with its fantastical wallpapers, white lace curtains and even the layout and colors of each room. This also translates to the impressively curated wine list that includes an impressionable amount of glass pours to ponder.
Alongside plenty of adventurous European offerings, you’ll find excellent wines from Vejr’s label Golden Cluster. The racy and mouthwatering minerality of the On Wine Hill “Millerandage” is a near-flawless expression of Oregon chardonnay. Don’t be ashamed to let the friendly servers recommend a glass or even a bottle from the small but mighty list, or simply go with whatever sounds good, because all of the food is made to pair with wine.
If you’re dining at L’Orange with more than two people and are not afraid to share, you can cover a sizable portion of its menu, which leans French with the occasional modern flair. On my first visit, the soup ($10)—a deviously indulgent riff on French onion—was a crowd-pleasing starter. A rich, luscious gravylike broth and tangy caramelized onions sat sneakily below a Gruyère cheese skirt and a buoy of garlicky bread pudding that pulled me into its belly-warming embrace.
If you want to start off on a slightly lighter note, I recommend the chicken liver ($12), a lovely sharable tartlet where flaky pie crust plays the role of bread. An ube-colored mousse laced with the slightest tang from spiced plum jam tickles the palate. If you’re craving leafy things but still need that meaty kick, Lyonnaise salad ($14) is a playful riff on the classic with morsels of smoky pork complementing the bitterness of chicory. I also loved the leeks ($14), an oddly delectable dish served cold with a crab mousse that took on a fluffy, cream-cheeselike texture.
Somewhere between starters and mains, you’ll inevitably find yourself drawn to the “crêpe” ($19), which I put in quotations because it eats more like a chimichanga (servers even encourage hot sauce!) with the pot pie-style chicken (replaced this winter by lamb) taking on a rustic, tingalike quality. On its own, this dish didn’t knock my socks off, but the herby Béchamel and sprinkling of sorghum popcorn tied all of the flavors and texture together.
Celebrating the bounty of the Northwest extends to the waters, and the supremely underrated sturgeon ($27) was given a kiss of smoke and served over a bed of fall vegetables. The fish was buttery and baconesque in its smokiness, and I loved eating it with hearty root vegetables and dragging it carefully through a neon-orange sauce.
On one visit, my companion and I were practically quacking over the duck confit ($29) that was so tender and rich no knife was needed. The light acidity of a zippy apricot-orange mustard cut through the fat, and all of it was served over some of the most flavorful black lentils you’ll ever encounter. Other dishes, like the starch-heavy gnocchi ($23) and the succulent but slightly one-dimensional boneless short rib ($29), impressed more in their visual array of fall colors than their flavor and could still use a little more dialing in.
If you save room, the namesake L’Orange cake ($10), with a cardamom frosting and caramelized sugar brûléed surface, may be one of Portland’s finest desserts. Its sherbetlike citrus balances the sweetness and keeps things playful.
Portland’s post-pandemic landscape continues to be a tumultuous time for restaurants, with many suffering from inconsistent service or leaning heavily into concepts that lose the interest of diners after a short time. L’Orange is a welcome return to a simpler, slightly more affordable model thanks to its approachable elegance. Stocks, Vejr and their team have given us a spot that feels at home in its neighborhood—the kind of place you want to keep going back to. Maybe more restaurants should aspire to capture the spirit of “Old Portland.”
EAT: L’Orange, 2005 SE 11th Ave., 503-880-5682, lorangepdx.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday.