When you talk to him about why he moved to Oregon, Vitaly Paley likes to tell a story: While working at a two-star Michelin restaurant in France, he came across a gorgeous basket of morels. He marveled at them, turning them in his hands. He asked someone where they came from, and the chef said, “Oregon.” It pulled Paley back toward the United States, eventually toward Portland, and inspired him and his wife, Kimberly Paley, to open his restaurant, Paley’s Place, on a quiet corner of Northwest Portland in 1995. “There was enough here that it really piqued our interest,” he said in a 2018 interview. “At that point, the writing on the wall was there — we were going to make it to Oregon.”
Paley’s Place, alongside restaurants like Wildwood, helped shape what we think of as Pacific Northwestern dining. The chef took years of French training and applied it to the produce and meat raised here, developing relationships with the farmers that haloed the city. It got him a James Beard Award in 2005, a book deal, and a spot on Iron Chef America — which he won.
But Paley’s Place will close for good after Thanksgiving service, when the couple will retire and sell the picturesque home-turned restaurant. The closure punctuates a string of Paley Hospitality restaurant closures over the last two years.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Paley’s Place had on the local dining scene. Famous Portland chefs often spent at least some time in the Paley’s Place kitchen, be it Gabriel Rucker (Le Pigeon), Kristen Murray (Maurice), or Ben Bettinger (Laurelhurst Market). Vitaly Paley championed the use of local mushrooms — including morels — and Oregon coast seafood, and also brought a style of French cooking to Portland that remains some of the city’s best, pouring Oregon pinot noir alongside scored-and-seared lobes of foie gras or escargot Bordelaise. Kimberly Paley performed a style of service — warm yet professional, colloquial but attentive — that eventually became the norm at Portland’s fine dining restaurants. And, while many restaurants eventually become stagnant over time, Paley’s never stopped evolving: In recent years, the Paleys introduced more Slavic dishes to the menu, a nod to Vitaly Paley’s heritage, and even hosted a vodka and dumplings pop-up at the restaurant.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Paley Hospitality ran several restaurants in downtown Portland hotels, including Rosa Rosa, Headwaters, Imperial, and the Crown. So when tourism ground to a halt and dining rooms shut down, the Paleys took a massive hit. “The money has been seeping out steadily since the moment we closed,” Vitaly Paley said in a 2020 interview. “It took not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars just to close.” As a result, the couple slowly but surely began to close all of the downtown restaurants, leaving only Paley’s Place in Northwest Portland. “Closing our downtown properties hit us both really hard,” Vitaly Paley says. “We felt like we needed to salvage what we could, and Paley’s was our security blanket, it was a place where we found solace, it was my greatest joy, being in my own kitchen again and cooking.”
The restaurant offered a number of different styles of service, including takeout meals and pantry staples dubbed “Paley’s at Your Place.” The restaurant reopened for service on its front porch and dining room, though the chef pared down the menu to more casual fare, in addition to all-time legends: escargot, foie gras, American wagyu beef tartare. However, after the almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Paleys feel ready to say goodbye to the service industry, including their flagship restaurant. “We dug ourselves out of the ashes when COVID hit, and we’re not out of the woods,” Paley says. “The face of hospitality has changed, and I don’t know if I want to be a part of it anymore... Physically and emotionally, we just need to look after ourselves a little bit more.”
The restaurant will continue regular dinner service through Thanksgiving weekend, after which the restaurant will close and the couple will prepare the space for sale. “I hope we’re leaving behind a great legacy that I hope shaped what food is in Portland today. Both Kimberly and I are so proud to be a part of that,” Vitaly Paley says. “We hope to pass the restaurant and the building into someone else’s capable hands to continue to legacy.”
Updated October 4, 2021, at 5:32 p.m.: This story has been updated to include comment from Vitaly Paley.
• Paley’s Place [Official]
• After 26 years in Northwest Portland, Paley’s Place is closing [O]
• Previous Paley’s Place coverage [EPDX]