Heads of the Class

Check out the Pearl District’s most celebrated restaurants helmed by women.

By the time Jill Ramseier sent back a woefully substandard crème brûlée at an acclaimed Cleveland, Ohio bistro a couple of decades ago, the young culinary-school graduate already had both the capability and confidence to run a restaurant’s dessert program. On this fateful occasion, she ended up chatting with the head chef, who promptly hired her as the restaurants’s new pastry chef.

These days, the Canby native—she grew up on a chicken and egg farm—oversees the entire kitchen at one of the Northwest’s most celebrated craft-beer destinations, Deschutes Brewery & Public House, which occupies a smartly converted century-old auto-body shop that recently underwent a handsome revamp.

 

“We have a marionberry cobbler, which you might think would go well with a light, bright beer, but actually, I find that Black Butte Porter is perfect with it.”

As executive chef, Ramseier comes up with fresh, creative dishes that underscore the restaurant’s revered beer program, from Manila clams with coconut broth, green curry-sausage, and Light Brunch Sour beer to house-made fettuccine with prosciutto, spinach, and Parmesan cream. Her devotion to both sweets and baking remains strong. “We make all of our breads in-house,” she says, noting that many of the recipes are hers, dating back to when she started out as the pub’s pastry chef. She also puts a great deal of thought into suggesting beer pairings for every dish, including desserts, which can be confounding for some. “We have a marionberry cobbler, which you might think would go well with a light, bright beer, but actually, I find that Black Butte Porter is perfect with it.”

Cathy Whims has been wowing restaurant critics with her sensational Italian cooking  for years. The chef-owner of Nostrana teamed with noted barman Ryan Magarian six years ago to open Oven & Shaker, on NW Everett. The intimate space bathed in soft light and rustic wood is a convivial favorite of everyone from groups of friends to couples on dates. Speaking about her earliest aspirations to open a restaurant, Whims says, “My real dream was always pizza, so when Nostrana reached the point where it was running smoothly, I decided to open Oven & Shaker.”

“My real dream was always pizza, so when Nostrana reached the point where it was running smoothly, I decided to open Oven & Shaker.”

Whims serves up about 10 different specialty pies—including the dazzling fennel diavolo, with calabrese salami, bufala mozzarella, fennel pollen, Parmigiano, and basil—plus fabulous meat and cheese boards and other light bites. “I’m happy,” she says. “We succeeded in making a fun place for people to come and relax, and I feel like we did it with a lot of authenticity.”

Eleni’s Philoxenia, a neighborhood stalwart since 2004, owes its existence to the hard work and devotion of Eleni Touhouliotis, who hails from Crete, moved to Portland in 1974, and toiled at other restaurants until she’d saved up enough money to open her own place. Inspired in part by a cousin and cookbook author in Athens, Touhouliotis has strong culinary roots. “My family taught me many of these recipes,” she says, adding that she grew up eating the rabbits her father raised as well as local lamb and calamari—all ingredients that figure prominently on her menu.

Another of the city’s culinary glitterati, Sarah Schafer trained with famous chefs, such as Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio at Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern, before creating her own menus at warmly inviting Irving Street Kitchen. “I cook what I crave,” she says about her Southern-inflected menu. And locals crave what she cooks, including seared foie gras with Thai chili chutney and polenta, and classic buttermilk fried chicken with collards, smashed potatoes, and tasso bacon gravy.

 

“Before we opened Andina, the idea to own a restaurant had never entered our minds.”

Doris Rodriguez de Platt, the matriarch of family-run Andina, which has garnered countless accolades over the past 15 years, never considered going into the restaurant business until her son, Peter, proposed opening this stylish Peruvian spot some 15 years ago. “Sometimes I say to people, certain things in life are meant to be, and we don’t know why. Before we opened Andina, the idea to own a restaurant had never entered our minds.” Andina succeeds with a mix of traditional and contemporary Novoandina dishes, and it’s as lovely for a full meal as for a bite in the stylish 60-seat Bar Mestizo, which features nightly live music and serves first-rate cocktails.

Beyond these aforementioned talents, countless female chefs and entrepreneurs continue to make their mark on the Pearl food and drinks scene. At the new Canopy by Hilton, young and dynamic Sara Woods may be the only female head chef at any hotel in Portland. Pastry chef Mellisa Root operates the Hairy Lobster with her husband, chef David Root. Her fresh and creative desserts focus on childhood sweets she loved—consider the Pacific Coast cherry cheesecake with cardamom-whipped milk.

“Ever since we opened Irving Street Kitchen, we’ve prioritized doing our part to contribute to the neighborhood,”

There’s also the all-female team of executive chef Sara Hauman, sous chef Hannah Johnston, and sommelier Kelsey Glasser at Arden Wine Bar & Kitchen. And note Andrea Smith at Daily Cafe, sisters Julia Schmid and Joan Pacetti of Cookie Dough Cafe, Isabel Cruz of Isabel Restaurant, Veronique LaFont of Sante Bar, Erica Indira Swanson, the founder of the growing Tea Bar empire, and Wilfs, which is owned by Adele’ Nofield and features chef Deb Serkoian. Finally, adjoining Piazza Italia, famous mixologist Lucy Brennan recently opened hip and stylish Bar Rione.

If there’s a formula that’s working for all of these thriving establishments, it’s the sincere effort their management puts forth to welcome locals while still courting the city’s booming tourist trade. “Ever since we opened Irving Street Kitchen, we’ve prioritized doing our part to contribute to the neighborhood,” says Schafer. “A rising tide lifts all boats, and by extending our hospitality to our community and our city, we’ve made our own business stronger.”  – Andrew Collins | Photos by Michelle Mitchell, cocktail photo by Stuart Mullenberg

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