We’ve all heard the story of Guinevere and King Arthur of Camelot. Guinevere stands behind King, but to her left sits handsome Sir Lancelot. Should she stay loyal to her king or run off with the dashing knight? It made for a great medieval soap opera, but also gave birth to a term we use today.
That story is where the term ‘veritable quandary’ originated. It essentially means a state of not knowing what to decide. It was in this state that longtime Portland resident Dennis King opened the well-known downtown Portland fine dining eatery Veritable Quandary, or VQ.
Solving the Quandary
It was 1971, and King was studying political science and history in college, while at the same time managing a bar. Part of him wanted to move on to teach, but he also could feel the pull of a restaurant business, hence his veritable quandary, and the basis for the name of his future restaurant.
Although he was pursuing a passion, it didn’t take him long to realize he needed less structure and more fun. Before graduating and embarking on what might be a boring career, King went into partnership with an older benefactor and wound up purchasing a small building in a rundown part of downtown Portland.
“This was a derelict neighborhood,” he explains. “There were no other businesses here. Everything was boarded up.”
But as downtown Portland began to go through a revitalization in the 80s and 90s, the area near the south waterfront became home to a wealth of banks, insurance companies and other businesses. Suddenly business was booming and King had expansion in mind.
Build the Dream
“First I added the dining room in the back, in 1975,” he says, “but by 1980 I had rented space because I was running out of space here. Finally, in 1990, I was fortunate enough to get a loan to build a kitchen on the outside of the building.”
After the kitchen came the chef they have today, Annie Cuggino. Since 1994 Cuggino has been at the helm in VQ’s kitchen and King couldn’t be happier about it. “She’s been a miracle for the place,” he says without hesitation.
Once the inside was built out and the star chef obtained, King turned his eye to the exterior of the establishment. “We also developed this garden outside,” he says. “It really creates the ambiance.”
Indeed, the garden and outside patio makes for a great place to enjoy a summer refreshment or fall lunch. The style and placement of the plants and decorations provide a relaxing setting without being overwhelming.
As VQ has evolved over the years, their focus has consistently become more refined. They started selling nothing but beer, wine and sandwiches. Now they offer high-quality fine dining fare that doesn’t leave you completely broke.
“We really, really try to keep our cost down, no matter what the item is,” King says. “We want people to be able to afford to come here, and that way we have return customers all the time.”
With Locals in Mind
Making the food affordable doesn’t mean skimping on quality ingredients. King is well aware of the common ethos of the city he has operated in for so long, and he embraces it.
“All of our food, our chicken and eggs and everything, all comes from regional farms,” he says. “The farmers themselves are delivering the products to us. Annie is extremely good at combining farm-raised and organic products.”
Because of their laser-like focus on quality without the cost, VQ has become very good at minimizing food waste. “We don’t throw anything out,” King asserts.
Focusing on the goods of the region even goes beyond the food. King wants to make sure his establishment is representing the area in which it exists.
“I have a wine cellar that’s got thirty-five or forty thousand dollars’ worth of wine in it,” he says. “We focus on Washington, California and Oregon wines. They are all superior. You don’t have to pay huge prices to get a good bottle of wine anymore.”
A Dinner to Remember
With a one-two punch of delicious foods and great wines, an evening at VQ starts with a bang. First on arrival are bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and marcona almonds. The creamy cheese balances out the sweet nuttiness to make one amazing explosion of flavor.
Dinner arrives in the form of a good old-fashioned grilled ribeye, except this one comes with a twist. It’s accompanied by black lentils, roasted wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, peppered goat cheese, baby mustard greens, and aged balsamic. The perfectly tender meat releases juices that comingle with everything else on the plate. You’ll find yourself using your fork more like a shovel.
A dessert closes out the evening with a flourish. The warm chocolate hazelnut buckwheat cake comes with Zabglione gelato smothered in brandied cherries and hazelnut crunch. When all is said and done, you’ll likely need to be wheeled out of the restaurant.
Beyond the wonderful food, King is just happy to have been able to share so much of his life with grateful Portlanders. “I’m 72,” he says, “and I don’t have any young people in my life anymore. Coming down here every day of the week and seeing these kids go to work makes it all worth it.”
According to King, he has employees that have been working at VQ for over 30 years. With an elegant ambiance, delicious food, and a happy staff, it’s not hard to see why.
Veritable Quandary is open 7 days a week, serving lunch from and dinner daily with a 9:30am brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The bar is open nightly until 2:30am. They are located at 1220 SW 1st Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97204. For reservation and menu information visit their website at www.veritablequandary.com or give them a call at 503.227.7342.
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.