Pre-Theater

Whether you’re attending the theater, ballet, or opera of your own volition or being dragged by your more refined mate/friend/kind of weird guy at work you don’t know very well but swears his season tickets to the Oregon Ballet Theater let you see the whites of the eyes of twinkle-toed hotties like Yuka Iino and Lucas Threefoot, one thing is certain: you must eat beforehand, because being culturally au courant requires suitable sustenance. Here are a few places within a playbill’s throw from Portland’s preeminent playhouses.

Higgins

higginssqaureJust up the street from the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and the Schnitzer Concert Hall, and a short jaunt from the Keller Auditorium, Higgins is perfectly poised for a genteel pre-theater supper. For nearly two decades, Higgins has been serving up meticulously sourced and prepared Pacific Northwest cuisine under the careful watch of one of the Portland restaurant scene’s most prominent kitchen veterans, Greg Higgins. Savor fare like the house charcuterie plate, hazelnut smoked Sockeye salmon risotto, and rhubarb, lemon cream and candied almond trifle, then push back from the white linen clothed table, bid your exemplary server adieu, take your date’s arm and ask if you may escort her to the ballet/concert/play–she/he will think you quite the well-rounded gentleman.

Clyde Common

clydecommondiningroomEquidistant to both Portland Center Stage and the Artist’s Repertory Theater, this approachably sophisticated downtown gastropub’s beautiful high-ceilinged dining room is largely unadorned but never feels stark, and sports long wooden communal tables filled with happy, talkative folks all eating what Clyde calls simply “domestic and foreign cooking,” dishes like rabbit terrine with pickled beets, sweetbread ravioli, and pork cheeks with snap peas and trout roe. 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 communal tablemates/new best friends. Or, if you are feeling like a private moment with your bottle of bubbly and your theater date, by all means request a private table upstairs in the loft.

Gracie’s at Hotel deLuxe

graciesdiningroomsquareYou’ll wish you wore your best vintage Christian Dior gown when you walk into Hotel DeLuxe on SW 15th Avenue, a four-star boutique hotel done up in the style of Old Hollywood Glamour–and a stone’s throw from the Artists Repertory Theater. It’s not hard to imagine Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. sipping a glass of Jack Daniel’s in the corner of the darkly sumptuous Driftwood Lounge, and everyone feels like a star in Gracie’s dining room, with plush U-shaped suede banquettes, marble-topped tables, and lofty ceilings with ornately detailed gilded woodwork. If you forgot to wash your hair and wish to hunker down somewhere dark but still very glammy, take advantage of neighboring Driftwood Lounge’s superb happy hour–served twice daily from 2-6:30pm and 9:30pm to close.

Heathman

heathmansquareThe Heathman Hotel is one of downtown Portland’s fine dining mainstays, if you’re seeking a French-influenced, white tablecloth affair a baguette’s throw from SW Broadway’s major theatre and event spaces. I’m more of a Heathman Happy Hour girl myself. The food is excellent and quite affordable, raw Pacific oysters with lemon and mignonette are but $2 each, is served in the restaurant’s less formal adjoining bar, which can be quite the scene on a busy weekday evening. Once, UTTWJ Special Correspondent April even saw Jennifer Aniston there. And since the Heathman’s happy hour goes from 2pm all the way until close, if you work up a late evening appetite while watching Flight of the Conchords perform, you can revisit after the show.

Imperial

imperialexteriorsquareThose seeking a classy joint worth getting dolled up for are jazzed about Vitaly Paley and Ben Bettinger’s sensibly swank new Broadway Street eatery in the Hotel Lucia, where seasonally-driven Northwest fare fuels a convivial downtown crowd. And if you end up getting the proverbial room after a few too many of the dangerously affordable signature cocktails, come morning, the Imperial pastrami hash and crab croque-madame are but an elevator ride away—the dining room serves three squares a day, starting at the ungodly hour of 6:30am on weekdays.

Kalé

kaledoriasquareTo put it delicately, kalé–the “addictive” “ultimate comfort food” of Japan, as enthusiastic kalé champion and chef/owner Makoto Yoshino bills it–is not going to win any crowns at the beauty pageant. In the most fundamental of its four forms, it’s a dark brown, gravy-like beef stew over plain white or brown rice, in the glammed-up Doria version, it’s that with cheese baked on top until hot and bubbly, cultivating delightfully crispy, chewy edges. But looks aside, this dish is quite simply one of the most delicious one-trick wonders ever, and the perfect match for Stumptown, where its belly-warming properties are particularly well-suited to the long, dark, cold winters. And if you’re headed to a PCPA show, Yoshino’s roomy, rarely-crowded downtown restaurant is particularly well-suited to a casual, filling pre-theater supper.

Little Bird Bistro

littlebirddiningroomLate hours, a central location, and trés delicious dishes make this younger sibling of renowned Le Pigeon an inviting downtown destination regardless of the hour (they’re open until midnight) or your craving—stop in for a glass of wine and a charcuterie board or reserve a dark red leather banquette for a leisurely supper. The kitchen is helmed by longtime Le Pigeon sous chef Erik Van Kley, who orchestrates a simple French menu that zeroes in on beloved, expertly-executed bistro classics like steak frites, coq au vin, and marrow bones (and the iconic Le Pigeon burger), while pastry chef Lauren Fortgang spins sweet fantasies like strawberry elderflower floats, apricot givré with a corn financier, and her housemade chocolate plate. Depending on your mood, sit at the gleaming copper bar, see and be seen in the main dining room, or, provided you don’t suffer from acrophobia, opt for my favorite perch—the tiny upstairs table hugging the balcony corner.

Marmo

marmolunchSometimes you need a little festa Italiana in your life, especially one involving Campari, cannoli, and a pretty marble table overlooking a bustling city street corner, and stylish Marmo is happy to help you with that. Stop in for a lunchtime bowl of strozzapreti pasta salad made with Grassa’s squid ink pasta, artichoke heart and fig bruschetta, or an Italian sub, and if your boss happens to be out of the office, a negroni or two, because what’s a festa Italiana without negronis?

Murata

muratasquareHumble, gracious little Murata is practically invisible to the naked eye, tucked into a parking lot mini-mall across from the Keller Auditorium. Sushi Chef Murata-san works his magic quickly and quietly, and with a reverence for his craft that makes for excellent pre-theater theater–just sit at the sushi bar. The food is fresh and authentic, the dining room and semi-private tatami rooms are serene and inviting, and the kimono-clad servers are knowledgeable and amiable. Just remember–while Murata might be invisible to the unaware, it’s got plenty of loyal fans and it’s tiny, so try to get there early to avoid a wait that will leave you rushing into your seats, unable to have so much as one pre-show glass of champagne. (Oh, the horrors!) Read full write-up>>

Nel Centro

nelcentropatioFive blocks in either direction from Nel Centro, and you’ll be at either the Keller Auditorium, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, or the Schnitzer Concert Hall, so they’ve got the location, location, location thing down pat. Tucked inside fashionable Hotel Modera on SW 5th Street, the restaurant’s crowning glory is a large sunny private patio tucked into the center of the U-shaped hotel, its tranquil grounds accentuated by striking rectangular metal fire pits filled with rugged chunks of amber-colored granite that blaze brilliantly when turned on at dusk. Sit back and share “Italian Riviera”-influenced cuisine like hazelnut-crusted chèvre, thin crust pizzas, and spinach gnudi with Gorgonzola cream, plus a few cocktails, which might look dainty but pack a punch, so be careful lest you end up stumbling to the theater.

Oven & Shaker

ovenandshakerJames Beard-award nominated chef Cathy Whims (Nostrana, Genoa) and Aviation Gin co-founder Ryan Magarian joined their culinarily complimentary forces to open this sleek Pearl District hangout, where the white hot wood-burning pizza oven bakes and blisters a steady stream of thin crust Neopolitan style pies while hot bartenders shake up icy Anejo Manhattans and Pineapple Trainwrecks for a trendy crowd. Lovers of the widely-worshipped Nostrana radicchio salad, it’s on the menu, along with three other pretty young leafy things, and a handful of “finger and fork” small plates. On weekends, go off the beaten pizza path with the inventive brunch dishes like broiled grapefruit with brown sugar caramel, duck Eggs in Purgatory, and the prosciutto plate with pimento cheese and a biscuit. Weather permitting, have your wood-fired meal and White Lady cocktail outdoors on the beautiful sidewalk patio–you’re smack dab in the middle of some of the Pearl’s prime people-watching terrain.

Raven & Rose

ravenandroseinteriorsquareSet inside SW Broadway’s gracious historic Ladd Carriage House, this lavishly-remodeled downtown eatery has dual personalities. Downstairs, dolled up couples-about-town delicately slurp oysters on the half shell with their champagne and dig their forks into Park Kitchen alum David Padberg’s steak tartare and “rabbit two ways” in the elegantly appointed dining room, while upstairs, liberated office mates unwind over bartender Dave Shenaut’s craft concoctions in the Rookery Bar, a lofty wood beam-thatched space that’s part shiny cocktail lounge, part flat screen and billiards-endowed man cave.

Ristorante Roma

ristoranteromasquareIf you’re in the mood for a casual Italian dining experience before you head to Artists Repertory Theater, Ristorante Roma is but three blocks down the street. Tucked inconspicuously between a piano store and a consignment shop, Ristorante Roma looks out over the lovely First Presbyterian Church‎, so you can almost pretend you’re in Italy, where pretty much every restaurant looks out over a duomo. Ristorante Roma dishes up fresh salads, antipasti and hearty plates of uncomplicated pasta in a low-key, authentic atmosphere that’s enhanced by the gracious service from the lovely Italian couple who owns and runs the restaurant. Pour a glass of Sangiovese while you try and remember the last time you saw a play, then ruefully toast your embarrassing lack of culture and resolve to be less of a Philistine in the future.

Southpark

southparkexteriorsquareYou can practically touch the back balcony of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall from a patio table at Southpark Seafood Grill and Wine Bar, which makes it a logical spot to enjoy a pre-event glass of sparkly with a dozen Pacific oysters before the John Tesh Diana Krall concert. Or, sip a selection from Southpark’s impressive wine list and sample the sauteed crab cakes with citrus saffron or a bowl of manila clams with salsa verde in the restaurant’s comely little wine bar.

Tasty n Alder

TastyandAldersteaksandwichIt’s not always easy to catch a glimpse of a genuinely heart pounding hunk of beef in Portland, unless you have the time and lack of shame to blatantly loiter outside fire stations when it’s truck-washing time. Find a happy medium at chef/restaurateur John Gorham’s downtown sister restaurant to North Portland’s popular Tasty n Sons, dubbed Tasty n Alder, where the fried onion-topped smoked coppa steak sandwich, hazelnut romesco-slathered Alder Burger, steak ‘n eggs-centric Cowboy Breakfast, and cinnamon-laced Budapest coffeecake will leave you with a whole new kind of beefcake lust.

Teardrop Lounge

teardroploungeStylish, seductive Teardrop Lounge will put you in the mood for your upcoming Portland Center Stage theater experience. The sexy setting includes a unique circular island bar and cool industrial touches, a Pearl District clientele that’s as dramatic and attractive as any show’s cast, dashing and brooding bartenders, passionate drink-making, and of course, alluring small plates like salt cod arancini, or nettle and mushroom crostinis. And since happy hour goes until seven and you’re only two blocks from the Armory Theater, you can linger until just before the Grande drape parts.

Veritable Quandary

veritablequandaryYou’ve got 7:30 pm tickets to La Bohéme at the Keller, and since the opera takes a lot out of a person, you need pre-show fortification. Somewhere elegant and relaxing, the sort of place Mimi and Rodolfo might go for wine and a long chat after they sort out all that business with the matches and lost keys. Veritable Quandary, located only three blocks from the auditorium, should do quite nicely.

Yama Sushi & Sake Bar

yamasushiOne of my favorite Portland sushi experiences of all time was at this friendly, elegant restaurant in the Pearl District’s swanky Burlington building, where we nibbled Kumamotos on the half shell with spicy ponzu and flawlessly fresh sashimi while blatantly watching the first date next to us crash and burn, as she threw a passionate fit about the still-moving shrimp head on her plate, then covered it with a leaf shroud as her appalled date looked on. Amazing sushi, amazing eavesdropping = the ideal meal. The affordable lunch specials are particularly appealing for midday sushi seekers, try the seafood pot, sukiyaki, or bibimbob with organic vegetables, red pepper sauce and pan-fried egg, all under $10. If you don’t mind walking a few blocks, park on this end of the Pearl before a Portland Center Stage show at the Armory, and make this your pre-show fuel-up.