Octopus lovers, rejoice.
Former Riffle NW chef Ken Norris is returning to fine-dining seafood, and he will do it at the Heathman Hotel, reliable sources tell WW.
In February, Portland's culinary scene was rocked by news that the historic restaurant at Portland's Heathman Hotel would be no more—after a corporate takeover and long slide that had already pushed it by the wayside among Portland diners.
"Are the Paleys crazy?" Portland Monthly asked at the time.
In 2012, Paley had begun another extraordinarily ambitious hotel restaurant, Imperial—our 2015 Restaurant of the Year.
With the decision to hire Ken Norris, the Paleys are looking more crazy like a fox.
Headwaters plans to announce the hiring of Norris on Thursday, March 31, according to our sources.
This should be good news for fans of seafood. In a river town close to the ocean that has struggled to create a truly great all-purpose seafood restaurant (leaving aside the more rarefied pleasures of backroom restaurant Roe), the chef who came closest was Ken Norris at the short-lived Riffle NW in the Pearl.
Before that restaurant imploded upon Norris' sudden departure in 2013, just a year into the restaurant's tenure, Riffle NW combined ambition with classic chops to create one of Portland's most exciting seafood restaurants.
Riffle arguably kicked off a renaissance in how Portland restaurants treat the once-rubbery octopus—now grilled beautifully tender at restaurants from Tasty N Alder to Taylor Railworks to Old Salt.
"The triumphs tend to alter one's basic conception of a dish," we wrote of Riffle in 2012. "This is true not only of the octopus, but also of something as apparently simple as a Brussels sprout salad—which is interpreted here as a pile of the veggies (usually such dense little grenades) shaved razor thin and piled high as an anthill, with a light and buttery dressing. At times the kitchen's discovery is slight but profound: A side of fingerling potatoes is quickly deep-fried so they become fingerling jojos. Sometimes it's a completely alien revelation: A sea urchin and quail egg shot takes that unlikely pairing (the urchin puréed, the egg an unbroken yolk) and drops it in a shot glass of tomato water that's been drained through a cheesecloth. You swig it, and break the yolk on the roof of your mouth. It's spectacular."
After Norris left Riffle amid heavy speculation, he apparently underwent a lot of lifestyle changes before returning with fast-casual concept Clutch—serving hot dogs "like the gum that did in Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka—a whole meal smushed into tubular casing and packed into a brioche bun, whether buffalo wings or pad Thai."
But the $9, no-side dogs were a tough sell. The Cedar Mill Clutch restaurant has since folded—as did plans to sell Clutch at the Portland airport—although a cart is still slinging hot-rib and Buffalo-wing dogs at the Southwest 9th and Alder pod.
But the new post at Headwaters will bring Norris right back to his wheelhouse: fine-dining seafood, with fine local ingredients, served up with the full backing of executive chef Vitaly Paley.