Peering into the windows of Ava Gene’s is like looking into the storybook version of Portland that everyone dreams about. It’s all floating lights, lace curtains, wood-fired grills and elegant-rustic décor. The bar acts as the dining room’s buffer, and is an excellent place to eat and drink second to the counter that wraps around the open kitchen where pieces of locally raised pork are thrown on the grill and line cooks prep some of the freshest vegetables in the Northwest.
Chef Joshua McFadden’s vegetable-heavy menu has a way of coaxing depth of flavor from ingredients that don’t often play a starring role, and the same is true for wine director Dana Frank’s excellent list of Italian wines. Though the list has increased in size since opening it’s no less thoughtful and well-edited, traversing every major winemaking region in Italy while staying true to balancing a love for classics—both revered and underappreciated—with a genuine curiosity for a new generation of outsiders edging their way into the canon. House cocktails are excellent and lean heavily on brown spirits deployed in classics like the Boulevardier. The digestif menu is not to be missed, as it includes a selection of vintage Italian amari and a long list of grappa.