If you were to think of the places in town that you could consider ‘all purpose’, it would be a pretty short list. Portland is ripe with places that have That One Thing. Hell, there’s even a few that do a few things well (at the same time!). But to find a place that covers a lot of bases at once – hours, location, well-chosen and well-prepared items – you’ve got to do some looking.
It can also be easy to forget about a place; to take for granted a joint that keeps knocking it out, all the time, with little regard to who is the latest NY Times darling, who is pushing the new-trend envelope (Hawaiian, anyone?) or is attempting to capitalize on their eco-political choices. Someone who simply gives you what you need, when you need it.
The Veritable Quandary (VQ) is just such a place. Do they have what I want? Chances are, yes. Are they open to give it to me? Chances are, yes. No matter what you might be looking for, geeky or classic, it is there for you. Can I get a bottle of Vouvray on a sunny day? Yep. My Mom is in town, can I get her some German Riesling? Oh yes, and at a ridiculously good price. My sister is visiting; she wants a Lemon Drop and a snack outside – done. My brother is here and wants to drink Single Malts until we’re unintentionally speaking French gibberish? Can do.
If you happen to be in the service industry – and if you’re not aware of this, let me tell you – they go until 2:30 in the a.m. Seven days a week. Are you with me here?
When I worked late downtown, this place was a godsend – for I was hungry and thirsty. When I was going for afternoon meetings downtown on a new project I was involved with, I could stop in for a glass of wine afterwards and space out, decompress, and ponder the possibilities. A few times, I needed a reliable dinner and an interesting wine list. There I was.
The service is classic, old-school. You have a very clear idea of who is working, mostly because they have the black-and-whites on; usually a tie. The interior of the building, which has been through almost as much as I have (a fire inside, indeed), is based on warm wood, exposed brick, and leafy green trees that can be seen by looking down the length of the bar through to the dining room. The light is always just right, regardless of the time of day. A little dark in the afternoon, just a touch bright at night.
The menu is dialed in because the chef, Annie Cuggino, has been there forever. The proprietor, Dennis King, who has owned the place since 1971, trusts her to do the number one thing that a chef can do: satisfy the customers, no matter who they might be. Revolutionary, no?
So yes, you have a burger. And you have your (adored and despised) bacon-wrapped dates. But you also have Black Cod with Prosciutto and Fillo, as well as Ricotta Gnocchi with Mint and Pine nuts. In the end, I am all for these things.
But getting down to it, I am a wine guy. Ever since I first crossed the threshold of this town ten years ago, the VQ has made me feel like Portland had some of that…civility that I was worried about losing out on when I moved here.
If you’re in the mood for bubbles, there is Champagne – both Grower (farm direct) and the grand houses; there is Moscato d’Asti (Paolo Sarocco, $8/glass), as there always should be; there are two Argyles from over the hills (I dig the Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Blanc for $70/bottle).
France is here, with White Burgundy (Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Aligoté, $40), Red Bordeaux (Chateau St. Georges St. Emilion, $65) and – my personal White Rabbit – Chinon Rouge (Marc Bredif, $35).
Since the food (for the most part) has an Italian leaning, the wine list is particularly strong in Italian choices. Tuscany and Piedmont are strong, of course, but Wine Director Nicole Rocco knows that Italy goes far beyond Chianti and Barolo. From the Veneto, she snagged the lovely Inama Bradisismo ($55), a modern blend of Cab Sauv and Carmenere. She also wisely offers a high-end Campanian Aglianico from Feudi San Gregorio ($65). Quite simply, if your restaurant comes anywhere near to being Italian and you don’t have an Aglianico somewhere on your list…I don’t know what to tell you.
If you’re looking for California selections, the downtown area (where many of the motels are located) is the place to be; it is mostly the out-of-towners (business travelers and the like) that are comfortable with the wines, even though they may have a passing interest in our burgeoning wine economy. Either way, the VQ has your back.
From California, you can find such winners as White Cottage Ranch, Ridge, Heitz, Etude and Altamura – along with the mandatory (in the VQ world) Caymus Conundrum White. From Oregon, you’ll find St. Innocent, Cristom Reserves, Brick House and ‘super sleepers’ like the stellar Matello brand. If you like the Sineann and Owen Roe family of powerfully expressive wines, they are well in evidence.
The Quandary isn’t restaurant paradise, of course. The waiting time for bottles from the cellar can sometimes be substantial; occasionally, with the high number of wines by the glass (28), you are more likely to have a bottle that’s been open too long; cocktails to me are about 75/25, meaning 1 in 4 is somehow out of balance.
But in the end, service and professionalism trumps the bumps in the road. All you have to do is say the word and the problem goes away. Just say the word, and the VQ’s got your back.
The Veritable Quandary
- Address: 1220 Southwest 1st Avenue, Portland 97204
- Phone: (503) 227-7342
- Hours: Lunch Mon – Fri 11:30 -3. Dinner Mon – Sun 5 – 10. Bar until 2:30 a.m.
- Website: www.veritablequandary.com