Hopping Mississippi Avenue recently said goodbye to a staple of the street with the disappearance of the Mac n’ Cheesery. Fortunately, owner Emily Everett didn’t skip town with a few barrels of cheddar. She is still right there in the same location, except now she’s offering something completely different.
Enter Quaintrelle, the elegant New American eatery specializing in bold flavors, vibrant presentation and superb cocktails, all couched within a sharply defined space with a dark, industrial look that still translates a soft, almost feminine feeling; fitting considering the word quaintrelle literally means, “a woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm and a cultivation of life’s treasures.”
It could be that Emily Everett fits this definition, because after five successful years treating Portland to various Mac n’ Cheesery treasures, Everett wanted the space to express her passion a little differently.
A Re-imagining At Quaintrelle
“The space is too big for a Mac n’ Cheese restaurant with a price point no higher than ten-fifty,” she explains.
With Mississippi Avenue showcasing itself as a must-see Portland neighborhood, Everett had a chance to do something bigger; something more grand with the space. Serendipity struck when she met Bill Wallender, who now serves as their executive chef.
“Once we met Bill and he cooked for us, we knew we had something special there,” says Everett. “So, with his help on the evolution of the menu and the space, we’ve had a lot of fun repurposing it.”
Wallender, who has been working in restaurants since he was a teenager, found his home at Quaintrelle after spending three years at Ava Genes. Since arriving, and with Everett’s full approval, Wallender has put his stamp on the fresh new space.
“We are a one-hundred percent ingredient-driven restaurant,” he says without hesitation.
As is so often the case in the Rose City, Wallender goes out of his way to cultivate relationships with local farmers and bases his menu off whatever seasonal items they have available. But beyond cooking with only the best, freshest seasonal ingredients, Wallender wants to support as many local farmers as he can, a noble effort to be sure.
“I get turnips from this person, potatoes from that person and greens from this other person,” Wallender explains with a smile, waving his hands around for emphasis. “I want to spread the love and make sure everyone is supported.”
Producing innovative and flavorful dishes comes easy for Wallender, who pulls his technique from time with his father, dishes his grandmother used to make, and a heck of a lot of experience working in the kitchen.
“I started as a dishwasher,” he says. “But I also remember the kinds of stuff my grandparents cooked, and not just the food they put on the table, but also the stuff they produced. They grew food and had big dinner parties for the family.”
Experiences like these are the kind that give excellent cooks their edge, and it was this edge that Everett clearly noticed when she brought Wallender on board to help her transform her new restaurant.
“Originally, it was supposed to be a small, quaint bistro,” she says, “but it has evolved into something bigger and more fun than we ever would have imagined.”
As with any superb restaurant, the fun should be in the food, as it most certainly is at Quaintrelle. Well, the food and drink.
Just ask bar manager Camille Cavan, who has done a superb job whipping up truly unique, flavorful and – most importantly – generous cocktails.
“Everything is a derivative from a classic,” Cavan says of her bar technique. “I don’t like to get too fancy, but this still goes a little against the grain,” she finishes with a grin.
If so, we’ll be heading upstream against that grain right alongside her. An evening of impeccable technique begins with a showcase of truly stellar pairings.
A Pair of Pears At Quaintrelle
First up, the Old World Affair, paired with a fantastic beet salad. The drink, composed of Alto Silver Tequila, pechovan, chili liquor, gum syrup and a pinch of sea salt, surrounds a single square cube topped with dehydrated flowers.
One might think a tequila cocktail wouldn’t pair well with a beet salad, but there are multiple layers to this salad. Roasted beets, two varieties of Jerusalem artichokes, watermelon radishes, black and white sesame seed brittle and honey combine with an herb puree and tahini with Italian parsley for a truly elevated vegetarian experience.
Interesting side note: The watermelon radishes are sourced from the Black Locust Farm in Gresham, Oregon.
“They’re pretty strong,” Wallender explains, “so we cure them to take the bite off.”
Next up is the Laird’s apple brandy cocktail with Dos Maderas rum, New Deal Ginger Liquor, house-made almond syrup, rose water, ground almond clove, all-spice berry and a little bit of sugar. Add a cherry and a rosemary sprig and there’s little else to be said. This is one excellent drink.
Did we mention Cavan has a heavy hand on the pour? Of course, no one’s complaining.
Accompanying the drink is a pear salad. Two types of pears – sourced from a grower in Hood River – are tossed with a fish sauce vinaigrette, sugar, pickled chilies, white wine vinegar, olive oil, scallions and masitake mushrooms.
“We added wild rice for a crouton-type element,” Wallender says.
The effect is convincing. For a salad, this dish is as hearty as it is flavorful and healthy.
Cavan’s final flourish arrives in the Come Il Faut, which is a French term for “as it should be.” This play on an old fashioned is simple and delicious. Made with muscovado syrup, it has a unique finish on the palate.
The distinctively new world old fashioned serves as a perfect accompaniment to the final meal. A bold drink for a bold dish, the simply put pork confit.
“We remove the bone and cure the whole muscle overnight with a mix of garlic, herbs, salt and a little bit of sugar for roughly eighteen to twenty-four hours” Wallender explains of the preparation.
“After it’s tightened up and the liquid has leached out, we cook the whole thing in pork fat for about four hours, but we don’t want it to be super shreddy like pulled pork,” Wallender continues as the mind drifts into a culinary trance. “So, after it is completely cooked, we cool it in the fat, remove it, chill it, portion it and sear it.”
The meat is seared with Japanese baby turnips, then plated with quince poached in honey, apple cider vinegar, sugar and mustard seeds, then finished with a sprinkling of hazelnuts on top. Because, why not?
While there are a lot of elements to this dish, they come together quite well, creating a symphony of flavors and textures. Though the salads are themselves delicious and hearty, the pork confit is a good reminder of what a main entrée is.
“I think even five years ago, this restaurant wouldn’t have worked on Mississippi,” Everett says.
Fortunately, that was five years ago. Today, this type of refined New American fare is right at home on hip and happening Mississippi Avenue, and Portland is all the better for it. While we’ll miss the Mac n’ Cheesery, we welcome Quiantrelle.
Quaintrelle is located at 3936 N Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon. For menu, hours or reservation information, visit their website at www.quiantrelle.co or give them a call at (503) 200-5787
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. When he isn’t somewhere in the world reporting for his YouTube Channel and travel blog, you can find him working from his home or hiking a trail in the great Pacific Northwest.