Family Meal

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?

Beast

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 12.09.38 PMIntensely 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.

Boke Bowl

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 8.58.23 PMAfter 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.

Le Pigeon

lepigeonfrontwindowAt 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.

Olympia Provisions NW

opmeatboardPortland 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>>

Toro Bravo

torobravoextWaiting 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.