Of course Lucier was doomed.
In May 2008, at the height of the Bush recession, a scion of the Old Spaghetti Factory empire rented prime space on the South Waterfront and spent $4 million building an opulent dining room with two-story windows and a little river of water flowing through gold-tiled channels crossed by glass bridges.
WW's review credited it with "pizazz," saying it "makes every other restaurant in Portland look like somebody's frumpy first wife." (The Oregonian's critic called it "Dining in Dubai, or 1980s Vegas.")
The chef, Pascal Chureau, claimed to have worked at French restaurants with three Michelin stars. (This was later revealed to be untrue.) The fare was boldly season-agnostic, serving air-freighted ingredients, including Japanese Wagyu beef for $25 an ounce.
"[The menu] seems to have been written by feeding a swarm of trendy food buzzwords in several languages into some kind of random computer recipe generator," our reviewer wrote. "Ravioli, harissa, picholine olives, micro greens, ice cream, jus, emulsion, cacao nibs, cromesquis, reduction, kumquats, gastrique, yuzu, lemongrass, griottes, guanciale, cappuccino, white anchovy...."
And then there was the wine list, which ambled on for 30 pages.
Everything about Lucier was beautifully, hilariously wrong.
So wrong, in fact, that it taught us what was right.
At the time, The Oregonian asked, "Can Portland, the Land of the Modest, create the level of vaulting ambition found in other culinary strongholds, a food destination on a par with, say, Thomas Keller's French Laundry?"
The answer was already across the river, where the Cartopia pod had opened a few weeks before Lucier, in April 2008. A year later, it was clear that Portland's most exciting food came from places like the just-opened Nong's Khao Man Gai, which made only a gobsmacking version of its titular Thai rice dish—better, perhaps, than Keller himself could manage.
Portland's restaurant scene has, in the six years since Lucier bombed, become even more what it was—bountifully casual, full of well-done comfort fare, reclaimed barnwood and local beer.
The Lucier space, meanwhile, was briefly home to a "five-star" restaurant called Quartet, which also failed. The second-fanciest new restaurant of the past decade, Noisette, a self-described "fine-dining oasis in Portland's sea of casual gastronomie," closed after a short run. Genoa, "Portland's ultimate special-occasion restaurant," also closed last year.
July 30, 2008: Lucier review
December 5, 2008: Blog post analyzing Karen Brooks' brutal review of Lucier.
December 11, 2008: Closing of Lucier, with owner interview
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