Fall brings with it more than just a change of temperature. As seasons change and nature’s bounty moves south, menus end up on the chopping block as well. Such is the case at Red Star Tavern, where newly-installed Executive Chef Dolan Lane has chosen the perfect time to introduce an autumn feel to Red Star’s fresh fare.
We last paid a visit to Red Star Tavern over a year ago, and we were excited to return to see what Chef Lane had mind. Re-joining the team in May, Lane had plenty of time to unveil a menu more his style, without upsetting the balance Red Star Tavern already had in place. Together with master head bartender Brandon Lockman, the balance seems to be just fine. It’s a synergy that comes from Lane’s history with Red Star Tavern’s owner, Kimpton Hotels.
Around the World
Shortly after graduating culinary school in San Francisco, Lane did an internship at a Kimpton property. It wasn’t long before he was firing it up in Kimpton’s Seattle flagship, Tulio. After a successful stint, Chef he decided there was a world to see.
“I wanted to get out and see the world a bit, so I worked on a cruise ship for a little over a year,” Lane says. “The best part was meeting my wife on the cruise ship.”
The experience undoubtedly made for a perfect honeymoon considering Lane was cruising to France on a four-mast sailboat.
Upon returning to dry land, Chef Lane took up residence in Portland, and immediately reintegrated back into the burgeoning restaurant scene. Naturally, he returned to a comfortable place, working alongside Chef Kenny Giambalvo at Pazzo Ristorante, another Kimpton vehicle.
Again, he would enjoy success with Kimpton, but wanted to spread his wings a bit. And spread his wings he did, spending the next 14 years manning the helm at various Bruce Carey stables, including Bluehour and Clarklewis.
“I had a great experience working for Bruce,” Dolan explains, “but I was ready to start growing the other side of my brain.”
Working the other side of his brain would mean going to Meriweather’s, the fine dining restaurant in Northwest Portland that sources from their own five-acre farm.
“That was a cool experience,” he says.
After another successful stint at yet another of Portland’s distinguished restaurants, Chef Dolan finally ended up back home, coming in for a spring landing at Red Star Tavern. “I wouldn’t say I came full circle, but it felt like coming home a little bit,” he says.
Still, there would be no grace period for this homecoming. Lane jumped right back in, letting summer’s bounty carry them through on their former menu as he began to strategize what fall would look like.
“When I got here, Red Star had in place farmers who have been delivering here for years,” he says. “It’s been a little bit of a process, but everything has been in place to continue those relationships. It definitely keeps me in my wheelhouse.”
Staying grounded is important when you are running a room this size. Keep an eye out for a simple-looking book case, but look twice, it’s actually a trap door into the banquet area. In a room this dark and sophisticated, the feature fits right in.
Starting Chef Lane’s new fall menu on a bustling night deserves another nod to head bartender Brandon Lockman. He starts the evening with a bang, presenting tradition with a twist.
The Midnight Stroll arrives, a casual walk with a bit of a kick. Rye, Amaro liqueur, Cappelletti, Curacao and Peychaud’s Bitters mix well around a giant cube. Pleasant aromatics with a tang come in the form of an orange shaving.
The fanciful interpretation continues with a clever take on an inverted dirty martini, the Copper Kangaroo. Lockman washes the vodka with olive oil and then uses a saline dab to strategically place globules of vodka-washed olive oil. It arrives clear, yet sumptuously dirty, and a delight when a burst of vodka-washed olive oil explodes on your tongue.
With the evening properly lubed up, autumn arrives. Chef Dolan opens with two large pepper glazed chicken wings made with Mama’s Lil’ Peppers.
The wings are salted overnight, then cooked in pork fat and chilled off until they are ready for the fryer. They arrive nestled atop a feta crème dressing topped with dill. Moist and crunchy, heat and feta dance well with dill.
With the palate warmed up, it’s time for a roasted delicata squash salad. Red quinoa, ancient heritage cheese and arugula set atop three large, colorful squash slices. Spiced pumpkin seed vinaigrette completes the flavor profile. It’s a dish that looks as good as it tastes.
Finally, the main course, a pork osso buco with buckwheat polenta, Brussel sprouts, bacon and orange marmalade. The pork literally falls off the bone, tender and juicy. Not too salty, it contrasts well with the polenta and orange marmalade.
For someone with seafood on the brain, the Pacific Black Cod with braised pork belly and black kale over a farm vegetable chowder could be a go-to. The downhome-style chowder transports the fish to another place. It’s a clever mix of fine dining and comfort food.
As the season changes, so do the desserts. An evening of clever interpretations and bold juxtapositions ends in similar fashion with a dark chocolate mousse with salted pretzel crunch and Banana ice cream. A luxurious caramel crèmeux provides the perfect middleman for blending the sweet and savory.
Although the brains behind the bouillon at Red Star Tavern have changed with the season, worry not, this changing of the guard is only a good thing. The swirl of fall leaves welcomes Executive Chef Dolan Lane and his playful reinterpretation.
Red Star Tavern is located at 503 SW Alder Street in Downtown Portland. For hours, menu or reservation information, call them at (503) 222-0005 or visit their website at www.redstartavern.com.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, poet and longtime journalist who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. He currently works from his home in the Pacific Northwest profiling restaurants, reviewing local plays and reporting on regional, national and international travel.