At the south end of Riverplace along the Willamette, beside the new Strand
Standard condos, sits the new Lucier restaurant, a very high-end dining establishment with a sizable investment in its architecture and interiors. I visited Lucier last week as part of a press lunch. Hopefully it won't seem like I'm writing this post in exchange for the complimentary striped bass carpaccio with slivered foie gras, which was one of about ten different small plates we had over a four hour meal.
(I particularly recommend the delicious Michima Ranch Ribeye and the Spring Pea Risotto, but maybe that's me. The chef has an obsession, by the way, with micro greens and veggies. Gordon Ramsay would say that's very 1990s.)
The exterior, like the Strand condos, is designed by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects. It's got floor to ceiling glass and a slanted flat roof that makes it feel a bit like a ship. The back portion also has a wood-paneled curvy cube. The restaurant's 7,600 square foot interior was designed by New York firm Alvarez + Brock, which also designed Le Cirque. The press release has this to say about their design:
"One-of-a-kind features within Lucier include a marble wall milled with abstract swimming designs, a shimmering indoor canal lined with iridescent gold tiles, oversized chandeliers made from bronze tubes of varying heights, hand blown glass sculptures by local artists and a diamond-faceted metal dome meant to replicate the peaks of Mount Hood."
Being inside, I marveled at the beauty of the materials and design, especially the hanging chandeliers made from hundreds of individually hanging tubes that undulate gently. There's even a small waterway that meanders like a creek through the restaurant floor. And that gold dome is something else too, although it separates the bartender from bar patrons, which seems like an unwise move. Still, virtually every surface in this place is made of a luxurious material. It's very impressive, although some might say it also borders on the ridiculous. Will Oregonians go for it?
Obviously Portland like any big city has some affluent types who will flock here, as will others for their prom night or once-a-year birthday dinner at a destination restaurant. It's not Lucier's responsibility to craft their own demographic, of course. It'll be interesting to see how such a fancy place fares, but you've got to admit there aren't many riverfront restaurants except for a satellite of the Newport Bay chain plopped on the water a few feet away from Lucier. Call me crazy, but I don't think of these two as direct competitors.
Although this is possibly the swankiest restaurant I've ever been inside (at least in Portland), I found it curious to know that the proprietor, Chris Dussin, got his start founding the Old Spaghetti Factory and later Fenouil in the Pearl District, while his grandfather started that downtown hipster-stronghold of a watering hole, the Virginia Cafe. Lucier is of course most like Fenouil, both of which have a bit of a corporate feel despite the luxury.
Visiting Lucier (which is named for Etienne Lucier, the man who started Oregon's first independent farm), one also is inspired to ponder what the other most impressive restaurant interiors in Portland may be. We're certainly not the kings of high style with a culture that favors Birkenstocks and shorts, and many of the best restaurants here keep their style unpretentious. That's even more so now with the current generation of fine dining establishments, where often there cement floors to go with your Kobe beef. The first place that comes to mind as an impressive, luxurious restaurant space, though, is definitely the Allied Works-designed Bluehour. What other ones am I forgetting?