Russian-born Chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place has helped to turn farm-to-table cuisine in Portland into a movement. His love of pork and support of all things heritage breed or locally-produced has been the impetus for his nose-to-tail influence in the city. He counts among his protégées notable young Portland chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, whose menu also includes esoteric animal cuts like pig tongues and feet.
Vitaly Paley was a young pianist at Juilliard when he made the decision to move behind the stove at prominent US restaurants like Remi, Chanterelle, and Union Square Café, and Limoges restaurant Moulin de la Gorce in France. Paley moved to Oregon in 1994 to open a restaurant with his wife Kimberly, whose efficient front-of-the-house demeanor was honed while working at restaurants such as Bouley and Gotham Bar & Grill. When they packed up their belongings and moved out of their New York apartment, they set out for Oregon without a precise destination in mind. “We told the [moving truck] to drive slow; [we had] no idea where we were going. We came here without any knowledge of what was going to happen to us.”
After their arrival in Portland, Kimberly began working at Wildwood and the couple soon made friends with local chefs and industry professionals who would be instrumental in introducing them to the local scene. When picking his wife up after work one day, Paley peeked into a nearby unoccupied space, counted the number of seats, and said to himself, “I think we can make this work.” After opening in 1995, they soon transformed the space into a 30-seat grass roots operation; Paley headed both the kitchen and dining room at first. Over the years the restaurant has swelled to about 50 seats, and Paley now owns the entire building. “It’s been a long and amazing and rewarding journey,” he says.
Paley’s Place pays more than lip service to sustainable and seasonal produce, with an estimated minimum of three quarters of the ingredients sourced locally. “I’m militant about our ingredients,” Paley says. This is evident in their produce selection; the winter months roll by with few green vegetables, but Paley freezes, cans, and preserves spring and summer produce for use throughout the year.
Beginning with “a product that is already beautiful,” is half the battle, Paley modestly claims. But his creativity and sense of humor keeps the menu fresh with quirky selections like his Testa Rossa, which translates in English to “red-head,’ a deboned pigs head terrine, rolled with fennel pollen and a local version of piment d’espelette that gives the terrine its red tint. The terrine is chilled and sliced and, because of its fat content, melts on the palate. It was inspired by his love of headcheese, which he found customers initially reluctant to eat. His determination to utilize every part of the pigs spawned Testa Rossa and a number of other reworked charcuterie classics.
If you ask Chef Paley about his accomplishments, he will list Cochon 555’s quietly impressive Prince of Pork Award from 2009 as though it were no less important than his 2005 James Beard Award. No wonder, as his menu at Paley’s Place eschews flash and out of season vegetables for housemade bacon and morcilla, not just rolled out for show, but as an integral part of what Paley stands for.
1204 Northwest 21st Avenue
Portland, OR 97209