I'M HARD PRESSED to pick a single highlight at June. I mean this in the very best way; everything I tried on June's concise, constantly changing menu was worthwhile, and more than a few things were exceptional. It's that rare restaurant where everything works—where the dining room is homey and inviting, where the service is equally so, where the food is equal parts adventurous and comforting. Having opened this summer, the new restaurant by former DOC chef Gregory Perrault has hit the ground running.
The space itself is striking and easygoing, a former garage-door repair shop—complete with roll-up garage door, of course—that's been transformed into a minimal but effectively alluring space. Bare, gray walls and handsome wooden beams make up the simple interior, with a few tasteful appointments, such as the tiny sprig of leaves and berries laid out on every table. Several tables take up half of the dining room, with a view into the kitchen where Perrault and sous chef Daniel Mondok (formerly of Sel Gris) put everything together. The other half hosts a subdued bar and a cozy lounge area, where one can either have a drink or wait for a table—or both. Expect to wait, too, unless you've made a reservation—and there's really no reason not to do so. A dinner at June is worth planning ahead for; it's the ideal date spot, a romantic blend of intimate and casual, with muted but not numbing surroundings.
The most pleasant setting in the world wouldn't mean a thing if the food weren't worth eating, but June's ever-shifting menu—pared down to eight or 10 starters, and six or seven main dishes—is packed with great tastes. An appetizer of steamed artichoke ($10), with saffron aioli and a deep-fried tempura stem, was a standout, particularly once the hard outer shell of the artichoke was breached. Inside, the slab of tender artichoke meat was moist and slightly reminiscent of fish, a perfect balance of delicate and hearty flavors. The pork head terrine ($10)—a pâté made of large, visible hunks of meat and a jellylike layer of fat—was equally distinctive, decadent without being overbearing.
A pork rillette ($8), served in a small glass pot with ample crispy bread—the server, unasked, brought more bread when the initial portion disappeared—was soft, creamy, and delicious. A friend described the whipped meat as "the best cat food ever," but it was substantially more appealing than that, with pickled, stone-in cherries providing a weird but compelling garnish. Served as an appetizer, it was enough to provide a meal on its own. Meanwhile, a sausage-stuffed cabbage ($12) was outstanding in its own right, the pork and apple sausage providing a wealth of sweet flavor against the murky cabbage. It came with fried chicken mushrooms and perhaps an overabundance of turnips, many of which remained uneaten.
Perhaps the best of the main dishes was a leg of lamb ($23), perfectly cooked with a scarlet interior and a deeply satisfying flavor—this was a dish kept simple and honest, letting the flavor of the lamb do all the talking. Giving it a run for its money was a phenomenal vegetarian dish of delicata squash ($15), filled with black pole beans, broccoli rabe, breadcrumbs, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. The hard-rinded squash was cooked to softness but not squishiness, becoming addictively complex with the addition of the pole beans. Garnished with a lobster mushroom, cumin, and coriander purée, it was absolutely fantastic.
A couple seafood dishes were also strong, even if they did not scale those same heights. A creamy halibut stew ($24) tasted fresh and delicate, highlighted by succulent and salty mussels. And the rougheye rockfish ($18) had a clean, perky taste. In the vein of many fashionable Portland restaurants, the menu at June changes constantly—practically daily—focusing on what's fresh and in season. But a consistent option promises to be the burger ($13), June's entry into the best-bistro-burger-in-Portland sweepstakes. It's certainly a contender, an amazingly rich-flavored and beefy piece of meat topped with "fondue" cheese and a slice of ham, with downright excellent french fries on the side. It's as good an upscale burger as you're likely to find. There's also a 28-ounce rib-eye steak ($62) on the menu, which promises to make two well-funded carnivores very happy.
There's plenty more to like at June: A dessert of "butterscotch pudding" was actually a riot of caramel flavors. And the cocktail menu, including drinks like "What's in Columbo's Pockets" and "Cryptic Memo," lives up to the mystery of the names. The "P.S. I Read Your Diary" was a decided high point, crisply cool gin stirred with moscato and absinthe, making for a drink more refreshing than water. There's an enormous wine list—perhaps too enormous—with a few fine choices by the glass. But the food, and the welcoming setting, are what vaults June into the category of the outstanding. Even in these early stages, it's already one of the best restaurants in town.