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Pinot's Bill King on Conceptualizing the "American Brasserie"

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Bill King thinks on the large scale. His upcoming Pinot American Brasserie, scheduled to open August 2 in downtown's shiny new twelve|west building, has a 140-seat dining room (with room in the bar for 50 more), a (literal) tower of seafood anchoring a raw bar, and a central server's station meant to add a little "theater" to the room. Think bustling Parisian brasserie of the 1920s, imported to Portland.

"I think it's more than just eating and drinking when you go out, particularly in today's culinary culture and the new generation of people who dine out frequently," says King, who spent nearly 25 in the kitchen at McCormick and Schmick's before breaking away to create his contemporary brasserie. "It's the complete experience... to me, it's valuable to have some level of entertainment in the process. Just little things like the activity level in the restaurant — I think that some level of entertainment belongs in the dining environment, as long as it's not over-the-top and it's consistent with your concept."

So how did you decide on this space as the site for your concept?
The space really fell to us kind of late in the search process. ... To me, in an ideal world, I would have rather had a slightly more traditional, old-fashioned-looking building just because of the nature of the [brasserie] concept. But then we kinda thought about how fun it would really be to create a bridge from the old to the new, which is what we're doing with the food and the program as a whole. So, it made sense really quickly. We really believe this area is going to grow and evolve and expand.

Five thousand square feet of space sounds like a lot, especially in a town where most chefs prefer the small and intimate dining room.
We hope to be attractive to a very broad demographic [Ed note: Pinot will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late-night happy hour until midnight, staying open for a whopping 17 hours a day]... and so, we felt that we needed a little more size than a typical Portland restaurant than this more recent generation has. And a lot of it is driven by the concept itself. A brasserie is intended to be a big, open, lively space. If we drilled that down, then we'd have a bistro. And that's good too, but I wanted the energy and the ongoing levels of activity that'll make this [space] feel energized. And that just required more space than what may be typical.

How does the raw bar fit in? It definitely seems like a site for the energy you're talking about.
It's a combination of a sort of quintessential, iconic element of a brasserie. The couple times I've been to Paris, my favorite thing about walking the streets are that so many of the bistros and brasseries open up onto the street, and their raw bars come right onto the street. So they have oyster schuckers right out in the window. And we couldn't do that in this building [laughs]... but it's perfectly consistent with the concept, and also it really showcases Pacific Northwest product.

So after 25 years at McCormick and Schmick's... did or do you ever feel intimidated that your first project is something this large and high-profile?
No. I don't want that to sound arrogant or overly confident, because believe me, I'm not sleeping at night. [laughs] But I spent 15 years in this kind of dining before I joined McCormick; I had my own French cafe and charcuterie in the early '80s, so this kind of food has always been very closely connected to who I am as a chef. ... When you leave a job like that, it's a little scary walking away from that and starting from scratch. In terms of feeling comfortable with the process and the concept, no intimidation at all — and most importantly, it's what I've wanted to do for a long time. It's more of a dream realized for me.
· Pinot American Brasserie [Official site]
· All Previous Pinot American Brasserie Coverage [Eater PDX]

1205 SW Washington Avenue, Portland, OR