I Paid $17 For A Burger And Would Do It Again

We aren't huge on holidays around here and usually choose to celebrate them in our own way. When Valentine's Day comes most years we just stay home and cook, avoiding the mess of traffic and packed restaurants, but sometimes we just decide to move the day. February 15th is a fantastic day to celebrate because most of the time restaurants are much less busy. This year we decided to spend our annual obligatory Hallmark celebration of love at Paley's Place on 21st and Northrup in NW Portland.

This was our second trip to Paley's, the first being part of Dining Month Portland last June. We went specifically for two reasons: desserts created by amazing pastry chef Kristen Murray and to try out the burger. This burger is only on the bistro and bar menu (why I still am not sure - not fancy enough for the main dining room?) - which really means bar and bistro area, plus the porch area visible in the picture below - so I made a reservation for the bistro at 7:30pm. Paley's is one of the few places in Portland a reservation is just about a necessity, no matter what day of the year.

Front of the restaurant. It's the main part, up the short stairs. Beneath is a spa of some kind.

The restaurant was full like it is every night. You know what I said earlier about the day after Valentine's being generally less busy? That doesn't apply to Paley's. Continually regarded as one of the best restaurants in Portland it's a destination spot for out of towners as well as locals because of the great service that goes with the great food.

After being seated we were brought some bread (from Ken's Artisan Bakery just down the street and one of the few things not made completely in house) and an amuse bouche. It's hard to tell from the picture, but these tiny squares of a layered potato dish topped with romesco were on six-inch metal stands. And tasty.

Considering one of our entrees was going to be the burger I thought it a good idea to order a vegetable side dish, so I chose Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and creme fraiche for $8. I tried to be healthy. Really.

All of the flavors were excellent. We typically prefer smaller sprouts because then the core is smaller, but these were very well cooked and the bacon pieces (more on that later) provided wonder punches of smoky flavor.

For my entree I ordered the winter vegetable cassoulet. It comes served in a stone pot (Le Creuset or something similar) and is HOT. It's not much to look at, but included large white heirloom beans, Brussels sprouts, beets, and a couple other vegetables for $18.

At first glance it seems small, but spoon some of that out onto your plate and see the size of the beans and you realize it's quite hearty. In fact, this came home and was part of three more meals. That makes the price tag seem dirt cheap.

Then came the burger. It's not cheap - $15, plus $1 each more for bacon or cheese (blue or gruyere) - but it does also come with a simple green salad with a citrus vinaigrette, house-made ketchup and pickled vegetables. The meat is ground to order, the buns baked in house, the mustard aioli is also made by Paley's, and the $1 piece of (yes, house-made) bacon is closer to a slab of ham than a strip of bacon you get most places. Heck, Burger King charges more to put bacon on a burger (I think - been awhile). Besides, if you are willing to pay $15, why not $17? We chose the gruyere this time.

And would you look at this thing? Are you drooling yet? Unless specified it's served medium-rare; we asked for medium.

The meat is loosely packed, not a tight patty, and is a well seasoned burger. The aioli, a little ketchup, the grilled onion, the cheese, the slab of bacon/ham...it's perfect. This may very well be the best burger we've ever had and regardless of anything else at the restaurant we would return just for this. We didn't order the side of fries but should have - the couple at the next table did and they looked fantastic, matching up with other reports we've read online. Next time.

Now it was time for dessert. Kristen Murray is one of the highest regarded pastry chefs in the region, but unfortunately for Paley's she is leaving at the end of the month to strike out on her own and open her own place, one at a location as yet unchosen on a timeframe as yet undefined, though supposedly she wants to open by fall of this year. Of course we were getting dessert.

Wifey chose the creme brulee (all desserts are $9).

The crust was very evenly toasted, easy to crack with a spoon without being so thick as to cause issues. Inside was thick, creamy, Tahitian vanilla yumminess. Is this one or the one at Le Pigeon better? Might be whichever one we've had last. I'm not really sure why they all seem to use Tahitian vanilla beans, rather than Madagascar ones. Is there a cost issue? I'd love to try this made with Madagascar beans. Or, better yet, I want a tasting flight of creme brulees made with Madagascar, Tahitian, Hawaiian and Mexican vanilla.Yum!

I chose a passionfruit creme caramel, which came with cara cara oranges and churros.

The passionfruit added a nice balance to the creme caramel, while the acid in the oranges complemented the entire thing quite well. One bite with churro, orange, and creme caramel was sublime.

All in all it really wasn't that bad of a deal, $61 for two entrees, two desserts and a side. When considering this meal really is one of the best we've ever had I'd call it a steal. Plus, the staff is extremely friendly without being overbearing and Paley's obviously puts a lot of emphasis on this aspect, something far too few restaurants in Portland seem to care about at all. Front of the house is run by Kimberly Paley while Vitaly (an Iron Chef America winner) runs the kitchen. Each of them, even on a night when the restaurant is packed, take the time to come out and talk to diners and always have a ready smile. The pair have also penned a book that is part stories of how they got to where they are and part recipes; we picked it up at the library to see what it's about and plan on buying a copy (hey, it has the burger recipe...).

If it's not clear by now, we can't recommend Paley's Place enough. The food and presentation is fine dining, but the people are down to earth. We can't wait to return.


  1. Great review. The potato dish reminds me of Thomas Keller's "Potato Pave" from Ad Hoc at Home. I made it a few times and must say it's an awesome interpretation of scalloped potatoes. A quick google search should get you the recipe.

    I also love a good burger and believe they're well worth the premium if done right. Have you seen Modernist Cuisine's "Ultimate Burger" (http://modernistcuisine.com/2011/12/the-ultimate-burger/)? It takes over 30 hours to make! A more practical burger recipe comes from Heston Blumenthal in his "In Search of Perfection" series which I've taken some tricks from.

  2. Yummmm! Haha Michael beat me to it, I was also going to say he makes a similar potato dish that is amazinggggg http://www.cookingforshelley.blogspot.com/2011/01/applewood-smoked-turkey-tenderloin-sous.html

    Hey you ate something that was green, that is considered totally healthy. The passionfruit creme caramel looks sooo good!

  3. Looks really good! Makes me want to drive down to Portland to try!! :)

  4. Thanks everyone! Michael and Shelley, it does look a lot like that pave in the link you posted. Hmm... Finding that recipe now.

    30 hours for a burger?! It sounds good - except for the mushroom part - but I don't know...could it really be worth that amount of work? At some point I think the ROI disappears. :)

    Kobi - It's just a quick jaunt down I-5. :)