Sitting on the corner of NW 13th, in the heart of the Pearl District, sits a place where you can expect only the most innovative examples of culinary expression. It’s an establishment of understated ambiance couched within a sleek design. And it just so happens to be Bruce Carey’s flagship restaurant, Bluehour.
Step into Bluehour and you’ll find yourself in a thoroughly modern, yet elegantly classic environment designed by renowned architect Brad Cloepfil. Large treelike structures extend across the ceiling, decked out in lights. While the space is open, huge 16-foot-tall drapery panels provide corners and angles where otherwise there would be none.
Bluehour has been treating the downtown Portland crowd to unexpected eats for over a decade. Now, with Executive Chef Chris Carriker at the helm, the fabled restaurant enters a new chapter. Fortunately, it looks to be in good hands.
Originally from the Seattle area, Carriker got a job in a kitchen while he was in college. There, his talent flourished, and It wasn’t long before a chef he was working for advised him to drop out of college and pursue a restaurant career.
“I found that I could not get away from the kitchen,” he says with a laugh. “So I dropped out and went to Western Culinary School and the rest his history.”
Carriker remained in Portland after culinary school and quickly made a name for himself in Rose City. “I worked as a line cook throughout all of Portland,” he says.
Indeed, Carriker has logged time at storied Portland establishments like Meriwether’s and Wildwood. In 2006 he began work as the sous chef under Executive Chef Christopher Israel at none other than 23Hoyt. From there he went on to man the helm at the Gilt Club. It was there his talent got him an invitation to cook at the famed James Beard House in New York City.
But it wouldn’t be long before Carriker returned to one of Bruce Carey’s establishments. By August of 2015 he would find himself running the kitchen at Bluehour, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“Part of the thing that’s cool is that it is an open kitchen,” he says. Being able to interact with both staff and customers adds a personal touch to an elegant evening and Carriker doesn’t forget who backs him up. “I just have a really good crew,” he says.
With a beautiful building and an excellent staff on clear display, there’s only one thing left to explore: The food. Fortunately, Bluehour aims to please in every aspect.
The Carey Tradition
Carriker is proud to continue following in a tradition proudly on display at all of Bruce Carey’s restaurants, and that’s through the use of quality, local, farm-fresh ingredients. It’s something that Carriker admits is almost routine in Portland.
“It’s become cliché to be a farm-to-table restaurant because that’s what you should be doing. There is just so much bounty in Portland,” he says.
Ensuring ample access to nature’s bounty starts in his kitchen. Not only does Carriker assert that 90 percent of what they get for the restaurant comes from local farms, but a couple of his line cooks even go out and forage for the restaurant. “They do such great work getting out there and finding good stuff,” he says.
Once the freshest good stuff has arrived in his kitchen, Carriker sets out strategizing his dishes. Menu selections are based on seasonal items, so expect an item to be there one day and gone the next. “Generally, the farmers just give me their produce and everything sort of falls into place,” he says.
A fantastic example of fresh local produce can be found in the beet salad. A fantastic combination of roasted candy stripe and bulls blood beets compliments the creamy texture of local goat cheese and the crunch of hazelnuts. It’s a salad that breaks – then reforms – the mold.
Carriker likes to start with a reference point for a dish before turning that reference point on its head. One example is the foie gras pebbles. This visually appealing dish is an exercise in texture and flavor.
“We decided to make a mousse and encapsulate it in butter,” Carriker explains. “We were playing with the idea of how do we make something look like stones.”
As you bite down into the coco butter, the foie gras mousse bursts to life in your mouth, a juxtaposition of sweet and savory that melts together perfectly. Wash it down with the smooth citrus bite of an old-fashioned.
Just before it comes time for a juicy steak, the scallops arrive. Seared to perfection, they are joined by fresh autumn squash in a smoky duck liver broth.
Move on to dinner and bite down into a delicious grass-fed steak from a local Oregon farm. A steaming mound of spinach sautéed in garlic makes itself at home among creamy mashed potatoes and gravy. This is comfort food at its most refined.
And yet, despite this impressive display of mouth-watering eats, Carriker doesn’t forget where he came from. As complex as his culinary talent is, his personal tastes remain simple. Asked what his last meal would be and he chuckles before replying without hesitation, “A bottle of champagne and some fried chicken!”
This carefree attitude combined with careful precision permeates through everything that Bluehour does. So next time you’re in the Pearl District looking for a meal to remember, blue is the hour and delicious is the taste.
Bluehour is located at 250 NW 13th Ave, Portland, Oregon, 97209. They are closed on Sunday, open for dinner from 5:00pm – 12:00am on Saturday, and otherwise open from 11:30am – 11:00pm Monday through Thursday, until 12:00am on Friday. For reservation information call 503.226.3394 or visit open table. Menu information can be found at their website, bluehouronline.com.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is longtime journalist and blogger with over twelve years of professional writing experience. After a long career as an entertainment and political columnist, William now spends his time expounding on Portland restaurants, Portland plays and Android smartphone apps. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.