Sunday, June 26, 2016

LeChon South American Restaurant: Inspired cuisine, colorful atmosphere and outdoor dining

We stepped off the MAX light rail at Skidmore Fountain and walked an easy block to the historic Smith Block building on Naito Parkway. It was a mild summer evening in Portland. As we approached, we noticed that diners were sitting outside under red umbrellas, sipping cocktails and chatting, some in Spanish.

We were headed for a group wine dinner at LeChon which just opened last year. I’d been walking in this area many times but I had missed seeing this gem. Outside diners had views of the river and plenty of shade. LeChon had a lively vibe and I was looking forward to sampling their cuisine… Argentine and Chilean. Our wine dinner, hosted via a wine group, offered Spanish wines to sample. The combination turned out to be perfect.

The décor at LeChon is warm, inviting and vibrant. You’ll find a few surprises.  Inside I was amazed at the two massive saltwater aquariums. One had bright fish enjoying a natural seascape and in the other, jellyfish gracefully swam up and down, mesmerizing those at the bar.

But the real center of attention was the menu… all South American inspired and headed up by Chef Jaco Smith. Chef Smith brings to LeChon a world of culinary experience. He has worked as a Chef in Scotland, England, South Africa as well as top restaurants in the United States. 

Since I was with a group, I was able to see a variety of dishes from the menu. Two of our diners ordered the Chef’s Choice multi course meal for two and were wowed. I watched as the courses flowed from the kitchen and, when the lobster/pork dish arrived, realized the $45 price tag was very reasonable. At LeChon they don’t serve small plates with “tweezer food.” Meals are full of wood-fired meats and south of the border spicy sauces. The grilled octopus received rave reviews and even the burger was made special with a chimichurri sauce.

And, you’ll be surprised to find out that LeChon has menu items that would appeal to everyone in the family… offered at a variety of price points. I was sticking to my budget and chose two courses. The first was their farmers green salad, with champagne vinaigrette, cranberries, radishes, whipped goat cheese, and spiced pine nuts. It was a large salad, beautifully presented and the creamy goodness of the goat cheese and dressing enhanced the greens. I love cranberries so it was a perfect choice. ($11)
My dining companions raved over a variety of dishes, the empanadas arrived tucked into a wooden box and, since it was a wine dinner, wine flowed. 

My next course was a traditional cazuela dish (cazuela means pot in Spanish). I chose the locro stew, with grilled brisket, chorizo, corn, and potato. It was accompanied by slices of grilled baguette. It turned out to be very traditional with a chile-based spicy red sauce. The meat was tender and the dish was so hearty, I had to take half of it home. ($14)

I perused the menu and took mental notes of what I’d love to sample when I return… fresh fish, steak, empanadas. Each of the diners at my table vowed, also, to return. As we readied to leave, musicians arrived to entertain. 

LeChon is open for brunch, lunch and dinner as well as late night dining. They are offering a special Sunday Supper series with cuisine from a range of countries (not just South America). At the Supper Series, food will be served family style.

113 SW Naito Parkway Portland, OR 97204
Phone: 503-219-9000

HAPPY HOUR: Tues-Sun: 3p-6p; Monday: 3p-close
LUNCH: Mon-Fri: 11a-3p
BRUNCH: Sat-Sun: 9a-3p
DINNER: Every Day: 5p-10p
LATE NIGHT: Mon-Sat: 9p-close