Rhapsody in Bluehour

Nearly 15 years after it opened, the venerable Portland restaurant continues to wow diners.

A longtime luminary of the Pearl’s sizzling dining scene, Bluehour (250 NW 13th Ave, 503-226-3394, bluehouronline. com) continues to evolve. Owner Bruce Carey is forever tweaking and refreshing the elegant, high-ceilinged dining room, and in July the restaurant tapped Kyo Koo— the talented former executive chef of sister eatery Clarklewis—to helm Bluehour’s kitchen.

Opening an upmarket restaurant amid the gritty loading docks of NW 13th Avenue may have looked like a gamble in 2000. Carey, however, saw the move as a no-brainer. “I felt certain that the development of the warehouse district was inevitable and that this would be a great place for a modern restaurant,” he says, adding that he developed Bluehour at the behest of Dan Wieden, of ad firm Wieden+Kennedy—whose offices occupy the same handsome building—and architect Brad Cloepfil, who’d designed an earlier Carey restaurant, Saucebox, five years earlier.

Bluehour’s ambitious, contemporary menu changes seasonally. As Chef Koo plans future dishes he’ll draw from his eclectic culinary background, which includes training at Michelin-two-star restaurant Mugaritz in Spain’s Basque Country, six years of cooking in Oregon, and growing up in a Korean-American household. Koo emphasizes Pacific Northwest ingredients but also careful technique and detail-oriented service with a European flair. “I try to inspire guests to really think about what they’re eating—where the food comes from, how it was made, and why we pair one ingredient with another,” says Koo.

“I try to inspire guests to really think about what they’re eating—where the food comes from, how it was made, and why we pair one ingredient with another.”

Notable recent Bluehour offerings have included seared foie gras with gooseberries, fried almonds, breakfast radishes, and a toasted brioche; and seared yellowfin tuna with local seasonal vegetables, fava-bean puree, and herb nage. For a splurge, consider the Northern Divine organic white sturgeon roe caviar, available in 10- or 30-gram portions, served with all the classic accompaniments. At the other end of the spectrum, you can eat wonderfully well without breaking the bank by choosing the chef’s three-course $45 set menu.

The buzzing bar and adjacent sidewalk seating area have long been known as a suave cocktail hangout. The Snap Dragon, with house-made Thai chile vodka, St. Germain, fresh-shaved ginger, and lime, makes for a refreshing sip on a warm evening. The restaurant also offers a terrific early-evening happy hour with tempting drink deals and lighter fare, including the signature Bluehour burger, with housemade pickles, Oregon blue cheese, and bacon.

Chef Koo has some additional plans up his sleeve, including the introduction of a multicourse tasting menu, complete with wine pairings, and he’s constantly thinking about new, often unusual, locally sourced ingredients. “We’re working with some exciting Northwest seafood,” he says, “such as monkeyface eel and coastal spot prawns.”

As for Bluehour’s solicitous, knowledgeable waitstaff and sophisticated, big-city vibe, this is where Carey’s attention to detail shines through. “I’m a pretty good cook,” he says. “But my real skill-set is in the front of the house, which covers the service and the ambience. My other career would have been interior design, had I not committed to hospitality so long ago.” We’re perfectly glad, of course, that Carey chose his current career path.

– Andrew Collins