Bread & Brew: Doug Fir chef branches out with new menu
The Doug Fir Lounge, the East Burnside venue/bar/restaurant, turns 15 in October. That's old growth in Portland years.
But its polished vibe still feels cool. Chrome lighting and golden-brown booths create an atmosphere even a tween — and their aging hipster parents — can enjoy. Doug Fir, 830 E. Burnside St., is owned by longtime Portlanders Mike Quinn of Monqui Presents and serial entrepreneur John Plummer. They lease the space from the Jupiter Hotel next door.
Since its opening, the Doug Fir Lounge is where bands and music fans converge for pre- and post-rock show dining and drinks. The food has always been better than the nachos and pizza rockers live on, but now people can expect a lot more than oysters and a whiskey shot for dinner.
Meet Ryan Gaul, Doug Fir's new chef. He'll be scaling the food up a notch or two in the coming months and throwing light on favorite purveyors and cooking styles; for example, Brussels sprouts glazed in a sesame/fish sauce dressing with a dash of orange zest and scallions. "Deep fried, that's the secret," Gaul says. "Good and bad. Balanced out."
Gaul came to Portland from Spokane, Washington, two decades ago and applied for work everywhere. Portland wasn't on culinary steroids then. "I lucked out," he says, and started working pantry at Pazzo in the Vintage Plaza Hotel, one of the city's best training grounds for chefs. His career has included roles at SouthPark, Rosswood, and The Woodsman Tavern.
"They're letting me do what I want here," says Gaul, who will have free reign to tap into recipes that he likes best. An emotional attachment to Doug Fir only sweetens the pot, he says. "I've seen some the best shows of my life here."
Fresh oysters are sourced from his friend, Travis Oja, of Netarts Bay. They're served with a peppercorn red wine sauce and shallots. We loved the crackly chicken wings with a balsamic glaze and squid ink. Gaul may switch to drumsticks, but either way, the secret's in the fermented chili paste he sourced on a trip to the Yucatan.
"It's Condimento Negro — chilies burned until they're like motor oil," he says. Know that traveling with a brick of this substance may raise eyebrows.
Gaul revamped the Fir Burger, which now can be ordered single, double or triple. It's a classic served with shredded iceberg lettuce, American cheese and a soft sesame seed bun. It's been an immediate hit with shift workers at Doug Fir. The meat is from Canby's Laney Farms.
"They're awesome people, and it's the best beef I've ever had," Gaul says. "They don't use the sinewy fat and that keeps it super juicy." A shredded kale and romaine salad served with cured trout is an option if one inexplicably prefers.
When not cooking for others, Gaul likes to eat Vietnamese and Mexican food. "The best place for pho — I don't care what anyone else says — is Pho An on Northeast Sandy." He likes to prowl Fubon Market, too, where a rice cooker with a 24-hour "keep warm" setting changed his home life forever.
At work "it's tasting, grazing and butter all day" so he tries to eat healthier at home, rigging smokers in his backyard to smoke pork shoulder or fish caught by a neighbor.
Also in his backyard are three teacup Juliani pigs, including a pet named Clancy. These little dudes are definitely not for eating. But when Gaul picks them, he definitely knows their different parts.
Watch for Gaul to continue having fun and tweaking the Doug Fir menu in coming months, as well as introducing a new brunch. Things will stay approachable but interesting, like the recent "Wanna Fight" pop-up dinner where Gual squared off against another Portland chef.
"Doug Fir's always been about music," says Rochelle Hunter, director of marketing at Doug Fir. "But, as Portland evolved around us there was an opportunity to do something special and bring in Chef Gaul."