Jenn Louis: Portland’s Thoughful Eats and Beverage Pairings

To get ready for Valentine’s Day, we asked some husband-wife chef and restaurant management duos to share their romantic stories: how they met, what they like to cook to celebrate the holiday and whether their restaurants go all out in the name of love.

Written by Jenn Louis, the chef behind two popular Portland establishments, Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern. She co-owns the restaurants — which feature rustic, yet refined menus of Pacific Northwest ingredients — with her husband, the restaurants’ bar manager and beverage mastermind, David Welch.

David and I met while working at a restaurant – go figure. I had worked at Portland-based Wildwood for almost two years after graduating from the Western Culinary Institute of Portland and was finishing a Sunday brunch shift. I was very tired, having worked the Saturday night dinner service the night before. In walks a handsome man, sporting black high-water pants, a white t-shirt, a red v-neck cardigan sweater, chunky black shoes and tiny spectacles. I looked up and thought, “who the heck is this Mr. Rogers?” Really, it was love at first sight. We were married in 2003, and in 2008, David and I transformed a renovated warehouse into our first restaurant: Lincoln. In 2011 we opened Sunshine Tavern, where we offer family-friendly comfort food and playful cocktails.

We have always worked in the service industry, so our Valentine’s Day is spent at work. It is a long and a busy day, so I usually prepare something for the prep staff to eat (sticky buns, creamy macaroni and cheese) and then either he or I will sneak off to a little shop where they sell our favorite candy: dark chocolate bars filled with salted caramel. We usually enjoy that at the end of the day – a reward for a hard day’s work. This year, Sunshine is offering its normal menu, and Lincoln Restaurant will have a prix fixe menu featuring options for appetizer and entree (from a foie gras and chicken liver pate to to a cassoulet of lamb sausage, rabbit confit and roasted pork belly), panna cotta with Campari gelato for dessert and optional wine pairings for each course.

David’s and my ideal Valentine’s Day dinner (which is usually delayed until the next weekend!) is a Berlioni cocktail with a kale and grapefruit salad, a rabbit and pork polpetone with polenta taragana (recipes after the jump) with a bottle of 2011 Vietti Barbara d’Asit, and for dessert, one of those chocolate and salted-caramel bars with homemade nocino.

Recipes courtesy Jenn Louis
Lacinato Kale Salad
Serves 2
3 cups raw lacinato kale, stem removed, cut into strips approximately 1 cm wide
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tablepsoon shallot, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons chevre
1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into sections, membranes removed
kosher salt
black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine dressing ingredients in a bottle or small bowl. Mix well before using.

Mix kale, pine nuts and shallot in a large bowl. Season salad with salt and pepper. Pick chevre into small pieces and mix into the salad. Toss the salad with enough dressing to coat leaves. Arrange grapefruit on the salad after it’s put on the plate.

Rabbit and Pork Polpettone
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground rabbit
1 pound ground pork shoulder
1/4 pound ground prosciutto, bacon or pork belly
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
2 eggs
A few swipes of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 medium sage leaves, julienne cut
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently mix all ingredients together; do not over mix. Form a rustic ovular loaf with the meat mixture and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Spread ketchup along top of meat, making a thin layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven to 375 and continue cooking for 30 additional minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing.

Soft Polenta Taragna
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups yellow polenta
1 cup buckwheat flour
12 cups cold water
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

In a medium pot over high heat, whisk polenta and buckwheat flour into cold water. Whisk constantly until mixture reaches a hard simmer and has been completely absorbed into the polenta and buckwheat flour. Turn heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon for about an hour until the texture is smooth and soft. Finish with butter, olive oil and season with kosher salt to taste.

Berlioni Cocktail
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy David Welch

2 ounces Tanqueray gin
2 ounces Cynar
2 ounces Dolin sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice, stir for 30 seconds, strain into a glass filled with 1 large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Want more ideas for your Valentine’s Day celebration? Get recipes and inspiration from Cooking Channel.
Check back tomorrow for another romantic restaurant story and recipe.
Click here to read more Love in the Kitchen stories from chefs and restaurant management couples.