News Tidbits: No Opening on the Horizon for Aviary & Barista, Swenson Leaves June, and More

Updated 11/11 with a note from Andy Ricker

When it gets hot, I refuse to turn on the computer, so have been a bit dilatory in keeping up with things. Here is a news fix:

If you haven’t heard, Kelley Swenson, bartender extraordinaire, left June about a week ago. Asked for a comment, he said “Right now I am just taking some time off to figure out my next move.” I’d like to read all kinds of things into that statement, but they’d probably be wrong. However, speculation around town is that he wants to open his own place. Kelley consistently places in the top three in our “Best of” surveys.

Where are Aviary and Barista II? They have been closed since a fire destroyed the roof on July 4th.  I’ve been told by several people the repairs haven’t started, as the insurance company and the landlord are arguing over terms. I can understand the reticence of either to settle too easily, however, we are talking the livelihood of quite a few people – not to mention the loss of some damn good food and coffee. I’m told no reopening date is on the horizon.

I like this article from the Statesmen Journal

Never has the sign posted above the door inside Sybil’s Omelettes Unlimited had so much meaning as it did one recent morning, when the staff witnessed a “pay it forward” marathon.

It started with an older gentleman picking up the tab for a pair of Oregon National Guard soldiers. When the soldiers learned their bill was taken care of, they paid the bill for customers at another table, then that table did the same for another, and so on.

The gestures of generosity were done at random, by complete strangers who just happened to be dining at the same restaurant, and continued for 18 to 20 transactions, before assistant manager Teena Hall lost count.

“I’ve been here 25 years,” waitress Lorri Collins said, “and never seen anything like it.”

The Wall Street Journal says “The Next Big Thing” will be Peruvian Food”.

Yesterday, a crew of the culinary world’s leading lights, including Denmark’s René Redzepi, France’s Michel Bras and America’s Dan Barber began descending on Lima for a star-studded food festival. This week, Spain’s Ferran Adrià, the unofficial dean of global haute cuisine, will begin making a documentary film about the food scene there. A huge restaurant from the nation’s top celebrity chef will open later this month in Manhattan.

Peruvian cuisine, the result of a nearly 500-year melting pot of Spanish, African, Japanese and Chinese immigration and native Quechua culture, is on the lips of top chefs worldwide. Zagat Survey lists four times more Peruvian restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia than it did a decade ago. The cuisine’s key ingredients (like aji amarillo, a yellow chili) are now found at farmers’ markets frequented by chefs, and sales of pisco, Peru’s fiery grape brandy, have doubled in the last five years. Ceviche, the country’s famous cured-seafood salad, abounds on menus, even outside of Peruvian spots: Haute cuisine temples Le Bernardin and Daniel both serve it. Peruvian chefs say they are able to entice investors to finance homages to their national cuisine for the first time.

One look through the window of Andina on, oh, Monday thru Sunday nights will prove the food has been popular here for years. The article makes it sound so exotic; it reminds me of how far ahead of the curve the Portland food scene used to be. However, smaller Peruvian restaurants have never succeeded here. Maybe with a renewed interest spurred by articles like this, they will have a better chance.

Yama Sushi & Sake Bar has opened in the old Hiroshi space at 926 NW 10th avenue. I can’t find anyone who has been. Comments? Anyone?

My Brother’s Crawfish is closing. According to their Facebook, they will not be renewing their current lease which is up on December 31st.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned Wafu, the restaurant opened a few weeks ago by Trent Pierce, most recently the chef at the short-lived Fin. It is a partnership with the ChefStable group. Their website has a pretty good description: “Paying homage to the mighty Japanese ramen tradition, Wafu (lit. “Japanese style”) is a noodle bar envisioned by lauded chef Trent Pierce. Using both modern and traditional techniques, carefully chosen ingredients are combined to create an assortment of tempting noodle bowls. Small plates that pair fresh meats and seafood with Japanese-inspired flavors round out this innovative menu.” I went to a preview dinner, and thought it was pretty good – especially for a brand new restaurant. Wafu will definitely be worth a return visit, even if the name evokes a sneeze. Ah, ah, ah Wafu!!

Speaking of openings, I also dropped in on Coppia on opening night. Coppia is the new incarnation of Vino Paradiso in the Gregory building on NW 10th. Chef Aren Steinbrecher is focusing on the traditional cuisine of Piedmont, Italy. This is more than just a name change, but a whole new focus. In a press release, owner Tim says,

“After over six years of business, we felt it was time to freshen things up a bit. Vino Paradiso Wine Bar & Bistro is now, simply, Coppie. The new name reflects our committment to one of our favorite regions in the world for both food and wine, Piedmont, Italy”

This is another case of a restaurant being better than I expected on opening night. It should be noted that I don’t make a habit of dining out so soon after a restaurant opens, but I have a new friend who does. Keeps me busy.

In a recent article discussing the similarities between the Portland and NYC food scene on Grubstreet New York,

Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame is scouting locations to open a restaurant in NYC. Andy Ricker, the James Beard Award winning chef-owner of Pok Pok, a Thai street food restaurant in Portland, would agree that New York is behind in certain ways. “I don’t know how the numbers add up,” said Ricker, who’s been scouting restaurant spaces for a Pok Pok he hopes to open in New York. “Portland food, since there are so many farms nearby, seems to revolve around these local ingredients that are not that expensive. I don’t think that’s true here.”

…Ricker reflects, “It’s every cook’s dream to open a restaurant, which you can do in Portland … Because you have a little room to breathe; you’re not sweating the commerce thing 24/7.” (Owing to said commerce thing, Ricker has pretty much written off opening a restaurant in Manhattan. “I’m looking around Red Hook pretty aggressively,” he told us recently via e-mail.) And yet, if you do manage to open a restaurant, cooking in Portland “is not that challenging,” Ricker says. Piacentini agrees, “It’s sort of a small city. There’s a lot of Asian, but there’s not much stuff from around the world happening there. And: “There’s certainly a height of cuisine that’s just not reachable [in Portland].

Updated – I got a note from Andy Ricker wanting to clarify what he meant. “…..RELATIVELY easy compared to NYC, due to lower rents, lower cost of living (therefore lower wages), ease of getting a liquor license and access to great product at a reasonable price. But I would never say that cooking or opening and running a restaurant is not that hard, in any situation.

Ouch. Emphasis mine.

Finally, the irascible Nick Zukin of is opening his own Mexican restaurant. EaterPDX has the details:

Lease details have yet to be hammered out, but a liquor license application confirms that Kenny & Zuke’s co-founder (and food blogger) Nick Zukin is opening a Mexican restaurant, hopefully to occupy the SE Division space that recently housed the Blue Pig Cafe. (The Blue Pig packed up and moved to SE Hawthorne and 20th.) Working title: Mi Mero Mole.

Nick plans to serve “very authentic Mexico City-style street food not available in Portland and rarely available in the United States at all”.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. dave says

    I selfishly hope Aviary will be open in October when my wife and I are in town for a visit, but it sounds like it’s not looking good. I hope they come back strong!

  2. Tommy says

    Mondok left June pretty early on, if I recall… Seems I remember hearing somewhere that Perrault can be a little tough to work with. Speaking of Mondok, we all remember what happened to Sel Gris… I’d be surprised (delighted, mind you, but surprised) if Aviary and Barista II were to get back up and running, in that location at any rate. That much lost business would seem like a death knell for any indie restaurant or coffee shop.

  3. scott says

    For the record, Barista II is technically not closed as they currently have a cart outside the building and continue to serve incredible coffee. Hoping they are able to move back inside soon!

  4. Nico says

    Just in time: Las Primas promises to bring Peruvian street fare starting this fall. From their Facebook page:

    When Lima-raised Peruvian chef, Catalina Acuña moved to Portland several years ago, she was surprised at the limited number of options to enjoy her country’s flavors. Beyond the couple of fine-dining establishments, Peruvian food was hard to find. Catalina wanted the food of the everyday Peruvian. Quick, flavorful, street food and sandwiches served in a fun, energetic environment. The food she ate growing up, shared with her friends after school, enjoyed while out-and-about in Lima neighborhoods. So she and her cousin, Portland customer service and operations manager, Sadie Morrison, decided to open a restaurant, introducing these fresh, authentic foods to Portland. Many months of planning and searching for the perfect location later, Las Primas, Spanish for ‘the cousins’ has signed a lease to join the bustling North Portland food scene at the corner of N Williams and Shaver.

  5. The Wizard Tim says

    Terrible news about Aviary, i wish them the best of luck. Was getting there at least once a week before the fire, and i have to say i really miss it. I thought they were easily one of the best restaurants in Portland.

  6. JDG says

    So what’s the object lesson here, with the (seemingly) parallel experiences between the fires at Sel Gris and Aviary? Are insurance companies using nefarious negotiation tactics to lower their settlement costs? Are building owners negligent in understanding the terms of their policies and expecting more than they are rightfully owed?

    • Anon says

      When the building owner is also the general contractor, you can bet that that person will fight for every last dollar in the settlement. Whatever is left over is profit. Property owner wins, tenants lose.

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