Featured Stories

Westcafe sparks life at a lonely corner

Weekend!Food: Taste
by: L.E. BASKOW, The former home of the Western Culinary Institute comes to life again with diners tucking into straight-ahead meals amid earth-toned ambience. The tarragon egg salad sandwich (right), a delight in itself, comes with a salad featuring an intense sesame ginger vinaigrette.

When the Western Culinary Institute moved from Southwest Jefferson Street and 12th Avenue to the Galleria in 2003, all the young white-coated chefs-to-be disappeared from that corner.

The deserted building felt kind of sad, like a rowdy 18-year-old's bedroom after he's gone off to college. So I was pleased to discover that a new restaurant has taken its spot.

Westcafe (1201 S.W. Jefferson St., 503-227-8189), serving sophisticated American food in an attractive, casual setting, opened in late July.

Owners and partners Douglas B. Smith and Sean Concannon previously had (for 11 years) a successful restaurant in Charlottesville, Va. They moved to Portland two and a half years ago, and Concannon became executive chef at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

After the PCPA laid off most salaried employees and Smith and Concannon's restaurant in Charlottesville sold, they decided they were ready to run their own place again.

Westcafe serves dinner seven days a week, lunch on weekdays and breakfast/brunch on weekends. There's also a little 'to go' space with a separate entrance on 12th called 'the market.' Here you can get many regular menu items to go or choose prepared food from a case. Coffee drinks also are available.

Even when the restaurant isn't open early morning, you're welcome to sit in the dining room with your food or drink from the market, which opens at 7 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends. There's Wi-Fi.

On Westcafe's breakfast/brunch menu, standard steak and eggs pop up as petit filet and eggs with home fries and toast. Vegetarians have quite a few options, including a wilted-greens omelet.

Lunch includes some unusual sandwiches, like the grilled meatloaf, and several salad choices. Protein lovers can add chicken, tofu, fish or beef to their salads for just a few dollars more.

Dinner includes a mix of starters plus vegetarian paella and lasagna, salmon and beef tenderloin.

I had lunch at Westcafe recently and loved the creamy tarragon egg salad sandwich made with supersoft white bread. It comes with a 'whisper' of house salad dressed with intensely flavored sesame ginger vinaigrette.

My friend chose the Caesar salad, a fine rendition of the classic with just enough garlic and anchovies to give it a little kick.

So far the restaurant is busiest at lunch. At dinner, Concannon says, 'we're getting the chance to meet our customers. We have a healthy growth pattern with lots of repeat business.'

Service at Westcafe is relaxed and friendly, and the space is pretty and comfortable. Prices are very reasonable.

Westcafe is open for dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and for brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Visit www.westcafepdx.com for information and menus.

* * *

People who know me would be surprised to hear that I went once on a Universal Studios tour, dragged by my sister who lives in Los Angeles.

The best part wasn't seeing the Red Sea part or being attacked by a mechanical shark. It was riding around in a little open bus and seeing various houses and buildings used in famous movies, including the creepy house on a hill where Norman Bates lived in 'Psycho.'

I always think of that when I see the pink house where Lovely Hula Hands (938 N. Cook St., 503-445-9910) resides. That's one of the things I've liked about it. So I was a little sad to learn that the restaurant is moving out of the house to a bigger space on Mississippi (4057 N. Mississippi Ave.).

Fortunately, though, it's moving into another cool old spot. And the building, which was a greenhouse during the 1920s and has stood vacant for years, will seat 55 compared with the current location's 35. A patio will expand capacity further. So the famously long waits at the restaurant should become shorter.

Charming sisters Sarah and Jane Minnick run Lovely Hula Hands with chef Jesse Garcia. According to Sarah Minnick, they were eyeing the Mississippi building even before they bought the pink house.

They've sold their current space to a developer who intends to lease the space as a restaurant.

The Minnicks need to be out of the Cook Street house by Oct. 31, so they're hoping to open in the new location the first week in November. They plan on being closed during the move for a week or so.

The menu at the new location will be very similar to the current menu but, says Minnick, 'the new kitchen is much bigger, so there's room to grow.'

Lovely Hula Hands is open for dinner every night except Monday. Visit www.lovelyhulahands.com for information on the move.

* * *

The rumors are true. Bruce Carey has confirmed that Balvo (529 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-445-7400), the restaurant he opened less than a year ago with Kenny Giambalvo, will soon be no more.

Giambalvo is leaving to focus on Bluehour (250 N.W. 13th Ave., 503-226-3394), the successful restaurant he opened with Carey in 2000.

Carey and Saucebox executive chef Chris Israel have been looking for months for a space where, according to Carey, Israel can 'explore the Mediterranean again.'

Now they've decided to transform Balvo into that place. Expect exciting things from Israel, who opened groundbreaking Zefiro with Carey back in 1990. They hope to launch the new restaurant (not yet named) in mid-October.

Send Taste tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..