Arden Wine Bar + Kitchen, the new wine-centric, fixed price spot with a chef-alum of a Michelin-starred restaurant, is unassuming from the outside, tucked into the former home of Coppia between an office building and a beauty shop. Inside, it’s a chic naturalist’s dream, with hanging plants in the windows, glasses of natural wine at tables, and a small open kitchen in the corner. With Sara Hauman in the kitchen and Thelonious Wines co-owner Kelsey Glasser running the show, the place is often packed in the lounge, with a choice few snagging tables for the reservation-only, four-course, $64 tasting menu. The place is a beauty to behold, with grape vine installations that change based on the season, stunning black-and-white photography, and high ceilings. The menu is stocked with surreptitiously simple crudos and olives, plenty of Oregon seafood, and a hearty selection of hard-to-find wines poured at the peak of their lives. Here now, a first look inside and a deeper dig into the menu’s inspiration.
“The name, Arden, was based off of Shakespeare’s forest of Arden, where people could escape the stress of the city... this mythical, lovely place,” Glasser said. “Stone, trees, leaves, all that stuff.” “All that stuff” is abundant throughout the restaurant, from the hanging plants in the front room to the raw concrete wall in the back. Alex Marchesini, Arden and Thelonious co-owner, is responsible for much of the design, using skills he said he picked up while working for Boston design greats Jane Thompson and Rafael Moneo. He designed their wine programs, but he still attributes his inspiration to both of them.
While bright wood panelling defines the front of the restaurant, a cool concrete wall in the back pops, adorned with a plant installation by Rosemary Stafford of Sauvie Island: woven vines are threaded with wisteria and hydrangea, which will change as new plants come to bloom. “We didn’t want to go with a flowery vibe,” Glasser said. “We wanted rustic greenery.”
Glasser’s father, Paul Glasser, played a significant role in the decor, as both a carpenter and a photographer; the moody shots of foggy hills are all him, as well as the tables. Every two-top, four top, and high top in the joint came from the same Oregon black walnut tree.
Glasser, a co-owner at Thelonious Wines, wanted to stock the bar with wines ruled by vintage — limited interference, to capture the vineyard and terroir at a particular moment in time. She opens the bottles when they reach their optimal age; diners may drink 1990s and early 2000s wines paired with dinner.
“We get frustrated when you’re still spending a lot of time with a bottle and they haven’t had enough time to taste as it should,” Glasser explained. That means if a bottle runs out, it’s out; the price of bottles this age is too high to just order another case, and Glasser wants the wine list to feel improvisational and eclectic. The wine list will change frequently — as will the food menu, for that matter.
Hauman, an alum of several San Francisco restaurants, is humble, goofy, and laughs at her own jokes. Her style is simple: She lets ingredients speak for themselves, seasoning them with a gentle touch of smoke and balanced acid. She uses smoke in the way that many chefs use salt throughout her menu: on beets with a touch of house-made hazelnut dukkah, crudo with apples and quinoa, and even the complimentary olives that arrive when guests reach the table.
The aforementioned olives arrive with just a kiss of that smoke, freshly imported from Spain, where Hauman cut her teeth. She’s picky about olives, so she didn’t want to disturb them much — just a little oil with orange rind and thyme.
Spain holds significant weight in Hauman’s background, although it seems Portland is still adjusting to some specific Basque dishes. During the early days, guests rarely ordered her take on chipirones en su tinta, squid cooked in a sauce of its ink. So she decided to combine two separate dishes: Black cod with crispy skin, originally served with uni and nori beurre blanc, is now plopped on top of the hidden squid, ink and chickpeas, with some fennel for brightness.
After her decision to gussy up the squid, Hauman had way too much nori. She decided to gather her cooks and brainstorm. They landed on a pasta, using the nori and leftover urchin, as well as a butter sauce with bonito flake for umami and smoke. A bright pile of pea tendrils added some color to the plate, as well as some textural contrast.
But in the dining room, one of Hauman’s most celebrated dishes is a simple trout crudo, an orange rose of raw fish, with a smatter of pink lady apple, some horseradish, and puffed quinoa to play off the subtle smoke on the fish. “The fact it was a throw-away dish [that] became everyone’s favorite — it’s sort of funny,” Hauman said. “It’s probably the most simple dish I do.”
Hauman is antsy. She wants to change her menu fairly soon, but she knows she needs to let things sit for a while. “I want to bring a sophisticated level of food to the area but not in a way that’s pretentious,” she said. “That’s not my style at all.”
Arden Wine Bar and Kitchen is open 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the dining room and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the front lounge. For more information, call 503-206-6097.