Like many from the former Soviet world, chef Vitaly Paley was apparently reluctant to serve the food of his Ukrainian homeland.
For the first 20 years of Paley's Place, the cozily domestic hardwood-floored bungalow housing his Frenchified Northwestern restaurant, diners got maybe a spare varenyky on the menu.
But in the wake of Kachka's success, Paley pulled Grandma's recipes out of the drawer. The wagyu coulotte plate ($24 half, $45 full), egg-loaded wagyu tartare ($21) and the justly lauded butcher's block of rich pâté and rillettes ($15-$50) are now bolstered with a mess of Soviet-state pasta and stews—in particular, on our summer visit, a ricotta varenyky dish ($14 half, $26 full) laden with silky cream and livened with lemon zest and dill into a riot of flavor. A duck and chorizo fideo shot bracingly through with swimming olives ($29) was likewise a highlight.
The pierogi didn't attain the heights of Kachka's pelmeni, and a beet-consomme ushki was a bit oversubtle, but dear Lord, that baba au rhum cake dessert topped with bruleed plum and bay-leaf ice cream was a fine and savory old-country dessert whose rich warmth was so powerful it seemed to fill not just the palate but the whole room. All that was missing was smoky caravan tea and the smell of brown tobacco.
But the biggest surprise on our recent visit was not Paley's own homeland fare, but Portland's. There, I had something I never thought I would again: a salmon fillet that surprised me. It was so moist, so tender, so full of its own distinctive flavor you could swear it was still jumping. In a restaurant newly livened with Paley's childhood recipes, the one who got wistfully nostalgic was me.
Eat: Always spring for the charcuterie—traditions have reasons—and pick up the creamiest-looking dumpling dish, alongside a meat plate of your choice. But from recent experience, make this the only place in Portland you order salmon.
Drink: The wine list is both extensive and curated, and the cocktails are immaculate. The Maximilian Affair ($12) combines aged tequila, sherry, vermouth and amaro for a drink that is somehow subtle, balanced and so potent it would stun livestock.
Noise level: 45/100
Expected wait: Usually, you can get yourself seated within 30 minutes, especially if you're willing to jump onto the bar.
Who you'll eat with: Japanese tourists and landed gentry. If you sit at the bar, you'll almost always eat with charming singleton regulars whose name and drink are known to all there.
Year founded: 1995, making it the second oldest restaurant in this guide's top-50 list behind Higgins.
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