Sophisticated food and drink intersect with a convivial neighborhood vibe at Tanner Creek Tavern and Pearl Tavern.
TANNER CREEK TAVERN
Venerable Portland restaurateur David Machado has once again struck gold with a restaurant and bar that’s fun for a casual gastropub experience or a grand culinary feast.
It’s an impressive feat, launching a hotel restaurant that’s as appealing to locals as it is to overnight guests. But David Machado appears to have figured out the magic formula. With the opening last September of Tanner Creek Tavern (875 NW Everett St, 971-865-2888), Machado now operates three restaurants inside local hotels, and at each one—on any given night—you’ll find a mix of out-of-towners, folks who live or work in the neighborhood, and foodies from elsewhere in Portland enjoying reliably fantastic food, drink, and conversation. “We kind of do our own thing inside the real estate that houses a hotel,” says Machado, matter-of-factly.
One smart design element that Machado employs at Tanner Creek Tavern is offering two distinct but adjoining spaces—a laid-back, handsome bar and a slightly but clearly more upscale dining room. Most importantly: you can order from either menu in either space. “We’re trying to pioneer this hybrid casual setting with great food,” says Machado, “but there’s still a part of society who wants a dinner reservation.”
That’s where the natty dining room comes into play. “It has an open kitchen with fire in the oven,” he says, “and the walls are higher, with soundproofing on the ceiling—it’s a room you can talk in, do business in.” But you can still order one of the bar specialties, perhaps the addictive deviled eggs or rabbit pot pie with frisée-carrot salad and mustard crème fraîche.
Conversely, if you’re in the mood to dine with several friends in the genial, downright neighborly tavern, with its tall windows overlooking Everett and 9th, but you’re craving the artful slow-roasted pork shoulder with farro, brussels sprouts, and a sumac glaze from the dining room menu, you can do it. “The bar is our energy center,” says Machado, who says it seats 100, versus 38 in the dining room. “We serve serious food. And yet the tavern is a casual spot with beer taps and sports on TV.”
That Machado has found steady success with hotel restaurants makes perfect sense. The native of Fall River, Massachusetts, earned his culinary stripes in San Francisco. “I got my start with Kimpton Group,” he says, referring to the boutique-hotel brand that launched the concept of destination-worthy hotel restaurants, and ultimately helped banish soul-killing, generically named hotel dining rooms—the Seasons Grills and Splashes Cafes of the world—with lowest-common-denominator menus, potted plants, and pastel color schemes.
Portland quickly adopted the trend toward noteworthy hotel food, and Machado moved here in the early ’90s and quickly became part of the movement, opening Pazzo, and five other Kimpton eateries before becoming the vice president of restaurants with the venerable Heathman hotel group.
In 2002, the ambitious restaurateur moved on to newer pastures, opening a hit eatery, Lauro Mediterranean Kitchen, on a then rather sleepy stretch of Southeast Division Street. The restaurant captured the urbane vibe and sophisticated yet unpretentious service of the Heathman, and before long, Machado had opened a nearby modern Indian restaurant, Vindalho, to similar acclaim.
Fast-forward to 2009, when Machado was approached by the developers of downtown’s new Hotel Modera about opening an on-site eatery. “That deal was favorable to the restaurant side of things,” he recalls. Despite its location in a part of downtown largely bereft of notable dining, Nel Centro flourished, offering what’s still one of the city’s most popular happy hours. Machado succeeded largely by creating an atmosphere that fused the big-city sophistication of his past hotel eateries with the neighborhood comfort and festivity of Lauro and Vindalho, which he eventually closed. In 2015, he launched Altabira City Tavern in the Hotel Eastlund, across the river.
“We’re trying to pioneer this hybrid casual setting with great food, but there’s still a part of society who wants a dinner reservation.”
“How did I end up being a hotel guy?” he ponders. “Mostly because of my original work history, and then making the deal for Nel Centro. I realized there’s some security with hotel dining, a built-in customer base, and private events and meeting spaces. Those are all really helpful.”
And then came an offer to open the restaurant at the new Hampton Inn & Suites Portland–Pearl District, in a neighborhood that Machado had never before worked in, but that greatly intrigued him.
“The Pearl project came to me through a realtor, and I became impressed with the ownership,” he recalls. “I had a sense of the upsides and the downsides to opening here, but I was pretty bullish on it. I think it may be the most upscale Hampton that’s ever been built. The owners knew they needed a local presence and a link to Portland, and we ended up providing that chef-owner link.”
About the neighborhood, Machado says that “it’s an interesting microclimate. We see local shop owners and creative types for lunch, and condo owners and theater-goers headed to Portland Center Stage at dinner.” Machado realized there was a surplus of beer and burgers in the neighborhood, and so he pivoted accordingly. “We’re a dinner house with casual dining.”
A big part of the restaurant’s success has been the deft execution of chef Trevor Payne. “He’s super ambitious and smart,” says Machado. “We talked food when we first met, and we ended up having the same creative influences, admiring the same cookbook authors—I’ve been ultra-happy with his food.” Payne brought in his friend Andrew Gordon, as sous-chef. “They’re both Southerners, and so they’re very lusty about food,” adds Machado.
Tanner Creek also offers an unusual wine program. “David Holstrom has done my list for 23 years,” says Machado. “His idea was to focus on the Southern Hemisphere—South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina. The wines in those regions have become extremely refined, and the prices—given the quality—are significantly lower. We’ve had great success with it so far.” There’s also a first-rate selection of Oregon craft beers and an impressive list of craft cocktails.
Machado sounds grateful if not necessarily surprised, about Tanner Creek’s early success. “Our two biggest sellers are our fish special and our burger,” he says. “We’ve got a killer burger, and yet, that’s one of our lower-price items, and our fish is one of the highest-priced dishes.” Machado notes happily that this data confirms his hunch, that there’s a desire among today’s diners for both fancy and tavern food. He adds, “and that’s how I’d like to be known, for being at the forefront of both of these options.” —Andrew Collins | Photos by Paul Wagtouicz