Thanks to communal dining, family meal has taken on a split meaning. There are meals you have with your real family–the family that raised you, fed you, clothed you, tolerated you, screwed you up good and proper and continues to haunt you with at least four phone calls a day updating you on their snap peas and the dog’s bladder control problem and offering unsolicited advice about your hair, wardrobe, career choices and love life; then there are meals you have with your new faux family–the people you’re randomly seated next to at a restaurant’s community table and forced to make awkward small talk with for several hours OR until you drink enough wine to hatch into a scintillating social butterfly. Here are a few places where you can experience the latter, so brush up on the latest headlines and go easy on the cologne, hmm?
Every Wednesday and Thursday evening, Chef Abby Fammartino takes a break from crafting her line of gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugar-free sauces and prepares four-course family-style dinners inspired by her international travels and passion for all-natural, organic and allergy-free foods. The menu might include crisp coconut scallion fritters in a drizzle of spicy persimmon dipping sauce, fresh celery tossed with slivers of fennel, Asian pear and Viridian Farms ficoide glacial (ice plant), hunks of creamy roasted black cod in a sake reduction, and forbidden rice pudding. Served at long tables in her inner Southeast kitchen, these reservations-only dinners are BYOB and Abby suggests suitable wine pairings to match her weekly menu.
Intensely driven, food-obsessed, self-taught chef Naomi Pomeroy has been captivating Portland food lovers for nearly a decade now, first with her Ripe empire (Family Supper, Clarklewis and Gotham Building Tavern), and now with Beast, a most excellent value for your communal dining buck. One of Portland’s hottest dining tickets, Beast has been lauded by the likes of Esquire, Gourmet, Food & Wine Magazine, and the James Beard Foundation. Each course on Naomi’s locally-sourced, lovingly prepared six-course prix fixe menu—which changes every Wednesday—is created in Beast’s intimate open kitchen, mere feet away from the two long wooden tables that comprise the entirety of the diminutive restaurant’s seating.
After many moons of elusive, exclusive pop up-only engagements, Boke Bowl ramen shop finally settled down and committed to an airy, fashionably-minimalistic space in Southeast Portland’s grungy-chic industrial waterfront district. The brief row of two-tops and long communal tables fill up fast when the lunch bell rings, so go early for easy access to the pork brisket-stuffed steam buns, divine warm Brussels sprouts salad with tofu croutons, and lineup of inventive ramens. Bring the kids along–there’s a Bambino Bowl on the menu just for them, and young or old, who can resist lemongrass ginger soft-serve and housemade miso butterscotch twinkies for dessert? And on Thursday nights, mark your calendar and claim your spot (and drumsticks) at Boke Bird, aka Korean Fried Chicken Night.
This downtown gastropub’s beautiful high-ceilinged dining room’s long wooden communal tables seat somebodies next to nobodies, suits next to hipsters, locals next to hotel guests just passing through town, all eating what Clyde calls simply “domestic and foreign cooking,” dishes like rabbit terrine with pickled beets, sweetbread ravioli, pork cheeks with snap peas and trout roe, and come weekends, sophisticated brunch fare like fried oyster breakfast sandwiches with bacon marmalade and hash browns drenched in béarnaise. Drinks are some of the best in the city, Clyde only employs the crème de la crème of the mixology world, and the wine list is pretty much infallible, so get a bottle and share it with all your tablemates/new best friends. But, if you are feeling anti-social, by all means request a table upstairs in the loft.
You never know exactly what to expect from chef Courtney Sproule’s fantastical weekend supper club adventures, which is of course, part of their considerable charm. Perhaps the proceedings will begin with sparkling Vouvray, deep-fried mussels and mingling, until everyone is ushered to whimsically-decorated communal tables, where savory madelines with speck, peaches and brandied cherry tomatoes magically appear, followed by gooseberry sorbet and lamb tartare with currant and dried fennel. Once upon a time, Din Din venues varied with the menu, until Courtney found a permanent home for her moveable feast, a small, exquisite space hidden in the depths of the inner Northeast industrial district, where she also serves a light breakfast and lunch “Fee Fee” menu on weekdays, as well as a decadent Sunday brunch.
Unless you just got back from Saint Petersburg, and maybe even if you did, it’s probably been a while since you had a proper Ruskie Zakuski Experience accompanied by nine shots of vodka, Siberian pelmeni in fancy broth, short rib borscht, and Russian ice cream sandwiches dipped in black currant tea milk caramel. So thank goodness for this utterly charming Russian gem in the ever-evolving inner SE, where chef/FOH team Bonnie and Israel Morales dish up buterbrod, blini and beef tongue stroganoff with a side of infallibly gracious service. And vodka, obviously—nearly 70 local, international, and house-infused varities are served.
At Le Pigeon, one of Portland’s foremost “communal dining” experiences, you’ll be seated at one of the three wooden tables that comprise the restaurant’s seating, which puts you in very close quarters with your neighbors, so be sure to bring your Tic Tacs, and maybe a bottle of wine to share. Chef Gabriel Rucker cooks up his own version of French fare both classical and with a twist, turning out dishes like his ultra-satisfying beef cheek bourguignon, poussin with shell beans and chanterelles, and grilled pork belly with strawberry jam. If communal tables make you claustrophobic, sit up at the “Chef’s Counter,” aka the bar, which puts you so close to the little open kitchen you can almost touch the flock of pigeons tattooed on Gabriel’s forearm.
Olympic Provisions NW
Portland is full of interesting secrets—secret catacombs, secret kebabs, secret gardens, secret creperie-speakeasies, and Secret Society, to name a few. Then there’s Olympic Provisions Northwest, which isn’t technically a secret, but unless you’re a particularly thorough wanderer, prone to getting lost, or have business in the industrial wilds of Northwest Portland, you’d be hard-pressed to stumble upon it. Walking through the deli’s front doors, you’re immediately confronted by one of the finest meat counters around—brimming with fresh sausages, frankfurters, patés, rillettes, Sweetheart hams, bacon, and a full range of Olympic Provisions’ acclaimed salami–all housemade on site. Orbiting the deli case is an intimate kitchen-facing marble bar, a few tables for two, and two boisterous communal tables—so you’re covered, whether you’re having salami sandwiches and cold microbrews for lunch with friends, or sharing one of the peerless rotisserie chickens with Schmaltz potatoes and a bottle of rosé with a hot date. Read full write-up>>
Sophisticated cocktails developed to complement the bright, unique Thai flavors at this hip 28th Avenue eatery make for a well-balanced meal, and the long communal tables in the center of the dining room make for interesting random interactions over chive cakes, Sriracha and fish sauce-glazed fried chicken wings, grilled hanger steak with spicy tamarind dip, and bowls of hot noodles–pig lovers, the egg noodles in spicy lime and pork broth with fried pork belly, tender slices of red pork, and ground pork is the porkfecta of your dreams.
Roman Candle Baking Co.
Much quieter and more legal than the other Roman candles you hang out with, this buzzy bakery, coffeehouse and pizzeria still puts off sparks, thanks to the wood-fired pizza oven and embankment of ovens putting out a steady supply of fresh-baked artisan breads and pastries, from flaky croissants and fresh berry danishes to delicate lemon tarts and raspberry dark chocolate tortas. It’s also an all-day affair–you can stop in at 7am for an espresso, zucchini citrus zest quick bread and buttery golden kouign amann, take your lunch break with a mortadella baguette sandwich or albacore tuna on light-as-air foccacia (plus a canele for dessert), and linger late into the evening with a good bottle of wine and wood-fired pizza bianca.
Simpatica Dining Hall
Every Friday and Saturday evening, this beloved Buckman basement dining hall hosts unforgettable reservations-only communal dinners that brilliantly showcase Pacific Northwest cuisine via prix fixe menus that read like exactly the sort of gourmet lineup you’d rustle up with all beautiful food you bought at the farmers’ market, if only you’d gone to culinary school instead of journalism/medical/cosmetology school. And since eating an unforgettable meal with amiable and interesting strangers is communal dining at its best and makes for fast friends, before too long, you’ll know the names of all your neighbors’ grandchildren, and they’ll know exactly how much you weigh, and thanks to Simpatica’s policy of thoroughly explaining each course before you consume it, you’ll both know what a Pocha bean is.
As a general rule, Italians love food and plenty of company to eat it with, so it’s fitting that Taste Unique chef Stefania Toscano throws big festive weekly dinner parties at her Division Street deli and kitchen. The prix-fixe, multi-course suppers are faithful to a theme–a Florentine Dinner might include a history lesson about Caterina dè Medicia’s role in establishing France’s modern food movement, while a culinary revisitation of Stefania’s first trip to Sicily features tomato and Pecorino-stuffed ‘Nfigghiulata (say that three times fast in your best Italian accent), a traditional caponata, eggplant parmigiana and pistachio-covered cannoli Siciliani. With a $35 price tag and wine just $6 a glass, these dinners are a great time and a real steal.
Waiting in line to eat is one of my greatest pet peeves. And since no-reservations Toro Bravo almost always has a line, I have done some very crazy things to get to the door when they open at 5pm, including almost running over my dad. But once I’ve claimed my spot at a communal table and I’m tucking into the succession of Spanish-style small plates, like manchego and paprika fritters and marinated sheep’s cheese with rose petal harissa & mint, or the meatballs with tomato-almond sauce and English peas, it’s all worth it. (Sorry Dad.) Regardless of whether you opt for a communal or non-communal table (sometimes you don’t really have a choice), a spot at the humming bar, or a chair along the open kitchen, you’ll be in the center of a hive of small plates-induced ecstacy.