Note: This establishment has closed
“When it Alu going to open?” my husband asked last week, of the sliver of a building on NE Martin Luther King Blvd. just south of Stanton St., which seemed months under construction. Through the grapevine, I already knew the chef was Sandro Di Giovani, formerly of Noble Rot and Pok Pok; that the food was German; that the upstairs would have the feel of a speakeasy. That Alu is within walking distance of our house may have fueled my husband’s anticipation. I’d heard there’d be a soft opening this week and was making plans to go when I got a call from my friend Rob, who’s been out of the country for five months, asking if we wanted to meet at Alu. But… when did it open, and how did he know?
“I think three weeks ago, and you’re always so slow,” he said, when we met him in front of the Alu, its silver facade holding a wide, wide door hinged top and bottom at the center, so that it spins open; very secret club; very Batman. While the staircase to one’s right – with a view of a fireplace behind glass, and the beckoning of bossa nova – told us the action was upstairs, I first roamed around below, through a dining room that smelled of cedar and lined with long low communal tables, a room made for sitting late into the night with many friends and many steins of beer…
“Come on,” said my husband, motioning me up to the bar, with its silvered wood walls and gilt ceilings, ceilings so gorgeous they looked like foil wrapping paper from Saks Fifth Avenue; ceilings so meticulous the paint appeared to have been hand-dabbed over a period of months. This gold pings off the room’s chandeliers, chandeliers the size of bunches of grapes and wagon wheels, and casts a glow on a series of ornately framed mirrors of the sort you might see rendered in a 19th century society portrait of Mrs. Vanderbilt.
We settled on a velvet settee across from the little bar, where a man was whispering into his date’s hair. “This is unbelievably sexy,” I said, as the waitress delivered four sheets of menus, one each for wine; beers, cocktails and food. We asked about many dark beers; she didn’t know; I asked about a rouge cuvee reserve; she wasn’t sure. Sandro, with a shock of black hair and a heartthrob’s handsomeness, overheard my request and delivered a small taste. Then he went back to the kitchen, the size of a closet, in which he is hoping to turn out the sort of food his German grandmother made.
“Ooh, napkin rings,” I said, as we moved to one of the room’s four dining tables. The waitress laughed.
“Everybody comments on them,” she said, and I wondered, why is that? At another place, you’d look at this ring of stainless steel and think, pretentious, or, why do I need this? But at Alu, they are part of the art direction, something to play with as you contemplate what to eat.
“The menu sort of doesn’t match the room,” said Rob, and I thought, he’s halfway right. What I wanted – what the intimacy of the room was telling me to want – were many glasses of wine interrupted by small bits of food I could pop into my or my lover’s mouth. And we did get that, with a cold cut plate of coppa, speck, salami and chorizo, and also, a plate of cheeses, which included a Cropwell Bishop Stilton that had smoke and sweetness, cream and salt. But Grandma also bequeathed bratwurst and spinach ravioli as large as turnovers, which the guys liked more than I; and a venison pot roast with spaghetti-length spatzle, a hearty dish that seemed more geared for ski lodge than speakeasy. No matter: as the men ate, I finished my husband’s Hirschbrau Neuschwansteiner Bavarian lager, and a slice of German apple rum custard cake mit schlag, made lovelier for its surprise note of citrus.
“You’re right on MLK, but you feel a million miles away,” said Rob, as he was right. It’s as though you’ve slipped into a little pan-European pocket in time. My only reservation in writing about Alu is I’d prefer no one else knew about it; that it remained our private hideaway. Ah, well.
Thanks for this. I’ve been wondering about this space for quite a while. (it’s less than 6 blocks from work.)
I’ve been interested in this place too. Would have loved some more details about the food. The article was reminiscent of a Danielle Steele novel.
Food Dude says
We dont’ really talk about the food much when a place first opens (or in this case is still doing family and friends meals). There is a link to the menu at the bottom of the page, so that will give you an idea of the type of things they are planning. I plan to go there myself as soon as they open (which I’m told will be in a week or two)
top notch says
Will be open this week Thu, 2/28 through Sat, 3/1, 4- 1. Thereafter Tue through Sat, 4- 1
Finally made it to Alu last night. The chef, Michael, I think was a sous chef at Noble Rot for a stint. I thought the bratwurst and spinach ravioli served with a warm potatoe salad was great. Instead of a sausage casing, you have a nice buttery pasta. the spatzel dish is also good (a close second to Victory’s spatzel) They had a nice selection of white wines that compliment the food, perfect for the first day of summer. There is an outdoor patio which will be nice for perfect summer evenings. Anyway, a place I will definitely return to and wish I tried sooner.
Suds Sister says
I like this place too, I do. But I think they need some work in the service department.
I was in last week, sitting at a table waiting for someone to bring me a menu, water, anything. I turned around and noticed menus by the bar, so I got up to get one. One of the servers yelled at me to put down the menus, that he would be with me in a moment. So I went back to sit at the table. And sit. And sit.
Slow and inattentive service, small and not so hot cocktails (yes, I know it’s a wine bar — the wine was not an interesting flight, either), slow and inattentive service, oily as much as cheesy Swabian-‘mac-n-cheeese’, slow and inattentive service, … A pretty space, but I see no reason to go back.
I noticed that this site and comments show up as high on google listings, so I wanted to update you on our information. Please condsider the following update to Alu, which we took over in May and re-opened late July.
Alu, a favorite Portland dining and drink destination, has re-opened under the guidance of new owners Susan Killoran and Jeff Vejr. The new incarnation of Alu opened on the 27th of July, 2009.
With seating up to 80 guests, Alu’s new concept, “A Taste of Passion,” was developed by Killoran and Vejr. It combines a modern culinary vision with a sustainable wine element. That element showcases organic and biodynamic wines with the finest of food and hand-crafted cocktails.
Features of the restaurant include:
– Alu is open at 5 pm daily, except Tuesdays which are reserved for private events.
– Once a Victorian house, Alu has a 850 sq. ft. upstairs restaurant and bar.
– An 850 sq. ft. ‘cellar’ –an intimate space to unwind, relax, and socialize.
– A 600 sq. ft. outdoor patio, perfect for fresh air and ambiance.
– Alu offers handcrafted and exotic cocktails, featuring a daily special.
– Alu showcases 26 wines by the glass and 250 by the bottle. Alu’s wine list is comprised of only sustainably-focused wines from around the world. Icons on the wine menu indicate which wines are biodynamic, organic, sustainable, vegan, made by a female winemaker, by a family estate, and local. Alu provides this and other concepts as educational tools for the consumer.
An innovative wine tag system provides the guest with a handy tag to take home as a reminder of the great glass of wine that they had. The consumer can use the tags to take with them to their local wine shop, or save for tasting notes for each glass of wine.
The wine list changes about every two weeks as new offerings become available. This offers guests at Alu a consistently new and interesting wine experience at each visit.
– A new food menu created by Executive Chef Sean Temple, features innovative appetizers, and a full complement of main course and house-cured meat offerings in a sharable small-plate format. Sean’s menu constantly changes to reflect the fresh, seasonal ingredients available from local farmers and suppliers. Alu has had three menus during the first three months of being open. Put simply, the fresher the ingredients, the better it tastes.
– Periodic wine tastings and wine dinners showcase regional offerings along with exclusive selections from around the world.
Alu is located at 2831 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; Portland, OR 97212. Please visit http://www.aluwinebar.com for more information.