When I travel to Portland, I eat a lot. Portland is such a gluten-free friendly city that the problem I have when I am there is deciding where to eat. I have so many options and love that I can eat safely throughout this beautiful Northwest city. I have my favorite gluten-free friendly restaurants but always try to eat at one new place each business trip. Last month, I had my best meal in Portland since I started going there for work in 2012. This meal was at Imperial at 410 SW Broadway inside the historic Hotel Lucia.
At the beginning of the summer, I attended an event in New York City launching Bob’s Red Mill Grains of Discovery. This event was slightly surreal. It was bringing my corporate Portland world to my hometown. All of the chefs at this event were from Portland and it was at this event I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Vitaly Paley from Imperial. Chef Paley is a native New Yorker that relocated to Portland in the 1990s. In 2005, he was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest. Now, Chef Paley owns three restaurants in Portland including Imperial, Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar, and the Portland Penny Diner. At the NYC event, Chef Paley was friendly, chatty, and extremely generous. (He handed me a gift card for Imperial in Portland before I left the NYC event). I knew where I was going to eat on my next business trip!
From my first communications via email with the PR company for Imperial, followed by several emails from Chef Paley himself I knew I was in good hands. The Chef told me his wife as well as a few of the servers on staff at Imperial were gluten-free. He also mentioned that many dishes on the menu were gluten-free and even marked on the menu itself with a “GF”. He did add a disclaimer that Imperial is not a gluten-free or shellfish-free kitchen. Chef Paley said “Even though we do attend very diligently and wash all our wares and counters between every use we can not promise there will be absolutely no cross contamination.” Not only did he reassure me but he also gave me his personal cell phone number.
PAUSE. A top chef gave me his number. This would never happen in New York City. But I digress…
I appreciated Chef Paley’s honesty, his understanding about gluten-free dietary restrictions as well as my shellfish allergy, and I made a reservation for a seat at the chef’s counter at Imperial for a Wednesday night in August.
When I arrived at Imperial, I immediately was treated like gluten-free royalty. (Get it?) Garrett, the general manager, met me at the front of the restaurant and quickly escorted me to the chef’s counter right in front of the wood-burning grill and kitchen. My waitress Autumn came over and walked me through the menu, answering all of my questions. Chef Vitaly then came out and we chatted for a few minutes. He remembered me from NYC and spoke to me about the menu and the safe, gluten-free options. The Chef also remembered from my emails that I was allergic to shellfish and made sure to point out the safe dishes on the menu
My Imperial menu for the evening:
Drink: Sleight of Hand: pisco, lillet rose, pamplemousse liquer, flamed negroni mist
Appetizer: Kale and raw vegetable salad with sunflower seed brittle and goat cheese dressing
Bonus dish: Ocean caught salmon belly
Main dish: Tails and Trotters Barrel Planked Pork Secreto with smoked hazlenut romesco sauce and grilled leeks
Dessert: Coffee Toffee Icebox Cake
This meal was decadent, delicious, and most importantly, gluten-free. Also, Chef Paley tries to use all local ingredients, which he explained when I asked about “Tails and Trotters“, the Pacific Northwest hazelnut, finished pork.
There were three major highlights of this meal: the salmon, the sunflower seed brittle, and the coffee toffee icebox cake. First and foremost, I ate fish. I need to focus on this because I never eat fish. But when a James Beard Awarded Best Chef puts an off-menu dish in front of you, YOU EAT IT! When the salmon is caught by a Native American fisherman by hook and line in the Pacific Ocean on the morning you are eating it, YOU DEFINITELY EAT IT. This salmon belly was lightly cooked right in front of me over the wood fire and seasoned with local olive oil, sea salt, and vinegar. I had to turn of my fishy aversions off and eat this dish, and I am thrilled that I did. This salmon tasted like the sea. It was smoky and salty and melt-in-your mouth delectable. I think I was spoiled for life. I will never get fish that is this good, this fresh, and this well-prepared here in New York City.
The second memorable bite was the sunflower seed brittle. Instead of croutons on the kale and raw vegetable salad, there was crushed sunflower seed brittle. This is exactly what it sounds like. Like a nut brittle, this sunflower seed brittle added a nice crunch and an interesting and safe alternative to gluten-laden croutons on my salad. If Chef Paley served me a plate of this brittle, I would eat it as dessert!
Finally, just when I thought I could not eat another bite, I had dessert. The Coffee Toffee Icebox Cake dessert was a gluten-free cake with toffee bits, local hazelnuts and toasted meringue. I was so full from the dinner that I was unable to finish the cake but it was so good at every bite. I wanted to bring it back to my hotel to finish but since it was frozen, I knew it would melt by the time I got back.
Throughout the meal, I chatted with Autumn, Garrett, and Chef Vitaly. The Chef reminded me that his wife is gluten-free so he is now more aware of gluten-free dietary needs than he was ever before. All three of his restaurants highlight gluten-free options on the menu and his staff is aware of cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen. The entire staff at Imperial seemed very well-versed in gluten-free dining and chatted with me about this throughout my meal. One of the hardest parts about business travel is dining alone, but the staff kept me engaged the entire meal.
Chatting with the chef at his counter, watching the behind-the-scenes of the kitchen, and enjoying such a decadent meal made the whole experience beyond memorable. It is safe to say, that out of more than 6 weeks in Portland over the past 18 months, Imperial and Chef Vitaly Paley made for my favorite Portland meal ever.
Thank you to Chef Vitaly Paley for making a safe, gluten-free, and delicious meal for me and for the entire staff for being so welcoming and friendly throughout my time at Imperial.
410 SW Broadway
Portland OR 97205