Red Star Tavern
The great thing about Portland is that even the mainstream establishments feel the vibe. Whether you are at a unique pop-up restaurant or a restaurant owned by a hotel chain, Portland’s bounty of fresh and delicious products seems to always be on display.
It’s in this spirit that the Red Star Tavern provides itself as a comfortable stopping place for downtown residents. Although the Red Star Tavern is one of the aforementioned hotel chain-owned restaurants, if executive Chef Kyle Rourke has anything to say about it, who owns Red Star Tavern will be the last thing on your mind as you stop in for a libation and bite to eat.
Don’t Judge a Book
“People may automatically be like ‘oh, it’s a hotel restaurant,’ and combating that perception is one of my biggest challenges,” says Rourke.
In fact, as he explains it, being owned by a big player gives him an advantage other smaller outfits might not have. “While it’s really hard to get out of their shadow, at the same time it allows you to do a lot of cool things and buy a lot of cool stuff,” he says.
And it’s the plethora of cool stuff at his disposal that allows Rourke to ensure the Red Star Tavern adequately follows the Portland ethos of good, clean, sustainable fare. Although some may think such a casual establishment might go for lesser quality products, don’t expect anything less than the best.
“We work as hard as we can to get the best stuff in the door,” Rourke says. He gets a lot of their produce from a husband-and-wife owned farm in rural Oregon. “They have a modest size farm, but they grow a huge variety of stuff,” he says. “I base my menu off of what they grow.”
Hip to the Trend
As he is planning his menu, if there is a seasonal item that his regulars don’t have, Rourke reaches out to other regional farmers to plug the holes. And this sustainable, healthy ethos doesn’t end at the produce.
“We get our seafood from what is essentially a farmer’s market for fisherman,” he says. “We meet them at the dock and inspect what they got. Fish are always better when you get them right off the boat.”
Even the oils and vinegars don’t escape Rourke’s discerning eye. Although he hasn’t found any yet native to Oregon that meet his standards, the versions you’ll find at Red Star are premium offerings from Sonoma County, California.
Treating people to delicious food has been in Rourke’s DNA for a long time. As he puts it, he wrote that he wanted to be an executive chef on a 3×5 card early on in his career. He started early, working in restaurants as a teenager. With a training in classic French cooking, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
Go (North)West, Young Man
Although Rouke was set on his path, the exuberance of youth beckoned. In a story of the young man striking out, Rourke went on a “skateboarding tour.” He left his home outside of Philedelphia and headed west to San Diego, but California wasn’t where his heart was. Finally, he headed north to Portland. “It was between either Portland or Austin,” he says. How many times do you see those two cities mentioned in the same sentence?
Shortly after his arrival, Rourke connected with the Red Star Tavern and seven-and-a-half years later, the rest is history.
Upon entering the Red Star you’ll immediately notice the expansive nature of the place. The sight of it brings up visions of huge grange halls and cavernous taverns of yore.
“When it’s full you get the full tavern effect,” Rourke explains. “Conversations bounce off of the walls and it feels warm. We’ve got a brick burning oven and when the bar is really busy it just adds to the vibrant tavern vibe.”
That vibrant tavern vibe is accompanied by drinks and dishes that will surprise you in their complexity and flavor profiles, while keeping dietary restrictions in mind. “I myself have an auto-immune disease, so I experience these things first hand,” Rourke shares.
His attention to all details is apparent in the tofu “scallops” with a side of rapini. You’ll never taste a better approximation of a scallop by a vegetable. It has the perfect sear while retaining the ideal interior consistency.
Even exotic meats are represented, with a full rabbit tasting. Combine that with a delicious seasonal beet salad and full plate of Penn Cove mussels and you’ve got the makings of a night to remember.
The Red Star Tavern is located at 503 S.W. Alder Street in Portland, Oregon 97204 adjacent to the Hotel Monaco. For hours and menu information visit their website at www.redstartavern.com, or give them a call at 503.222.0005.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. 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.