Wine Shots – Veritable Quandary

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:

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Brooke says

    I heart VQ. I work on the south side of downtown and it is a regular mainstay for business lunches, dinners, and happy hours. The bartenders are great, particularly on drinking wine recommendations. Describe what you’re in the mood for and you’ve got it. Thanks for the great review.

  2. says

    Nice writeup JJ. Man, I always forget about the VQ, but those rare times I’ve remembered I’ve kicked myself for not being there more often. love the dining room, love cocktails on the patio. I always thought their osso buco was the city’s best. I hope they’re still rocking that particular piece of meaty goodness.

  3. Catherine Cole says

    You make a really good point. When you start to think of all the necessities you need out of a place, VQ easily checks them all off. The bar-space issue would be my only gripe – I don’t like having to have to mash your way through there to get to the nicer dining room, but, whatever, I’m glad they still draw a crowd.

  4. says

    Working at KOIN 6 which is just around the corner, I’m a frequent visitor to VQ and I have to say it is my favorite lunch spot in town! The delicious spinach and mushroom salad is to die for!! I love that it is a small, charming space – I wouldn’t change a thing! And I need to book them on Studio 6!

  5. says

    We had brunch at QV on Saturday — never been before. Patio was splendid, I felt as though we were on vacation! And the crab Benedict, something that has a fairly good chance of being done badly, was fantastic. Loved the place, will be back.

  6. wine&dine says

    Wow. Had a less than mediocre experience with the flies and the food a few years back. So many restaurants and so little time I never gave it a second thought or chance. Brunch on Saturday sounds great!

  7. KevinS says

    Nice to see some good words for a high quality “tried and true” favorite.
    I live in Northern CA but had dinner at VQ last night. I expect to have
    dinner there again when I visit in July.

  8. JW says

    I think VQ does a solid job and everything I’ve eaten there has been amazing. I did have a very poor wine experience there recently. I was invited to a birthday dinner for 8 and purchased a magnum of Taittinger. I dropped the bottle off in the afternoon and told the hostess very specifically I didn’t want the bottle opened or presented until after the menus came up. I wanted the server to make some money off a round of cocktails and I like my bubbles with food. When I arrived half the party was waiting for the birthday girl in the bar so I ordered a glass of cava. We were seated very shortly after still waiting for 3 of our party to arrive. Moments after we sat down the server came down with the champagne uncorked in a bucket and asked who was ready for champagne. She didn’t present the bottle or give me a chance to introduce before she poured. I smiled and went along as my friend assumed this was how I had planned it. As I had a glass cava, the server tried to skip me when pouring the bottle. The rest of our party arrived and after waiting for almost 10 minutes I got up and poured them the rest of the wine and served them water. I ordered two bottles, a red and white for dinner and asked to open both and pour small amounts for everyone so they could decide which they would like with their meal. Pouring to 8 people she started giving everyone 3 oz pours and I finally had to stop her and ask her to just leave the bottles for us to pour. The rest of the service was fine but after reading this blog I felt compelled to share this experience. And for the record Ch. St. Georges ’05 St. Emilion wholesales for $21-22 a bottle. $65 on the list means a 3x mark up and that’s pretty much as steep as it gets in this town.

  9. Christine says

    I’ve only been to VQ twice but it’s the place I would take an out of town guest for the charm, ambience and quality food. It makes you feel that you’re getting your money’s worth for an elegant chef prepared repast in a great setting.

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