WHEN THE WORD "SEXY" is applied to the inanimate and intangible, we understand how the curve of a woman's hips are mirrored in the sleek lines of an Aston Martin, or the throbbing bass of a slow R&B club-burner is connected to the throb between the sheets.
As a professional eater, I've come to view certain restaurants as sexy. I'm not talking about the staff (though there are those, certainly); I'm talking about the restaurant as a whole. Whether it's the lighting or a dish on the menu, some joints have qualities that beg for that passion-soaked adjective—overused or not.
A restaurant is sexy like a person is sexy. They require characteristics that lure you in, make you want to stay, indulge, and return to indulge again. We chose the following restaurants based on their looks, intelligence, and approachability. In order to be considered, a restaurant not only had to look good, it had to offer an alluring, creative menu as well as be affordable and welcoming. Given that there is more than one way to be sexy, we found plenty to drool over. These are the places deserving of a culinary crush. PATRICK ALAN COLEMAN
The Sex Symbol: Olympic Provisions
107 SE Washington, 542-8420
Incredibly charming, yet possessing an air of fortitude that surpasses many small plate/charcuterie venues, Olympic Provisions has masculinity tempered with a continental sensitivity often lost in a community of meat-minded savages. That's why it earns our nod as Portland's Sexiest Restaurant. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that salami is a phallic symbol. Okay... maybe a little. PAC
Part Victorian health spa, part reformed slaughterhouse, the dining room is filled with light even on an overcast day. There is an air of cleanliness and health to the place—though, obviously, not so healthy as to preclude a bit of fat and a nip of whiskey.
Olympic Provisions appears to be comfortable quoting classics, but also uses them as inspiration for its own beautiful art. Bacon-wrapped quail. Beef tongue pastrami. Salami nola. Nothing left but to give in to its strong embrace.
With so many admirers, the small space can get a bit crowded. Still, it's a handsome, welcoming restaurant that makes a diner want to sit and order just one more plate. Damn the world outside. This is love. Or at least overwhelming lust.
The Foreign Exchange Student: Biwa
215 SE 9th, 239-8830
Biwa doesn't give a fuck about our little "sexiest restaurant" contest—it's confidently cooking on a global stage. The Japanese eatery plays by its own rules, with an izakaya-style menu that's earned a devoted—dare we say slavering?—following. ALISON HALLETT
Look, I'm not saying Japanese restaurants are sexier than American restaurants. That would be racist. All I'm saying is Biwa's sleek, warm interior always seems to hum at the perfect pitch—convivial and lively when the restaurant is full; intimate and cozy when it's emptier.
Just because it's not speaking your language doesn't mean Biwa isn't 10 times smarter than you are. With a seasonally rotating menu that recently included a phenomenal wasabi/radish salad (improbably delicate and fiery at the same time), as well as standbys like ramen with housemade noodles and an unbeatable chicken curry, Biwa's menu doesn't pander and it doesn't compromise.
Biwa might be a little intimidating at first glance—all them foreign words. Look a little closer, though, and phrases like "fried chicken" begin to appear. Not to mention, the service is some of the best in town: friendly without being obtrusive, professional without being snooty. Still not convinced? Two words: Hot. Towels.
The Cutie: Le Happy
1011 NW 16th, 226-1258
The tiny buttercup-yellow building that houses Le Happy sits nestled next to the elevated freeway on the outskirts of a pre-Pearl Northwest Portland. If good humor is necessary to your definition of sexy, this is your place, with its winking bohemian vibe. MARJORIE SKINNER
A grown-up rendition of Portland funky, with a relatively moderate number of things glued to the walls (eyeglasses, fake flowers). It's tiny and slightly Eurotrash, with antique light fixtures and a disco ball, like someone inherited grandma's furnished flat.
Long on charm, the menu is more clever than snooty (note "Le Trash Blanc," a ham-and-cheese crêpe paired with a PBR), with a consciously selected drinks list and a simple concept (crêpes) taken to maximum flexibility.
Pretty and popular, but not stuck up. If the humping animal figurines and board games don't put you at ease, the knowledge that you look like a million bucks under the soft lighting will.
The Smarty Pants: Beaker and Flask
720 SE Sandy, 235-8180
In a city of nerds, there's a place for everyone, even gastronomes. Beaker and Flask is serving some of the most intellectual food and drink in the city. What's more, they're serving it in a drop-dead gorgeous establishment (and the attractive staff doesn't hurt). PAC
The circular conspiratorial booths, the huge, bullet-shaped wall of windows, and the graceful, curving bar give the dining room a classic look, as sexy as the fins on an Eldorado convertible.
The thought, care, and knowledge being put into the food and drink at Beaker and Flask is recognizable in the flavors of whatever lands on your table. Can it be challenging? Certainly. Go ahead and ponder. The explorations are so very intoxicating. Sweetbreads, eel, and unrecognizable liquors? You're drunk on it.
Admittedly, Beaker and Flask's willingness to travel in realms beyond the knowledge of the average palate might be enough to make some feel slightly inadequate—like dating a sexy rocket scientist.
The Pop Idol: Departure
525 SW Morrison, 802-5370
The Lady Gaga of Portland's food scene is above it all... literally. On the top floor of downtown boutique hotel the Nines, Departure presents an explosion of disorienting slick design meant to remove you from the city below and please you with accessible Asian-influenced plates. PAC
Shifting from a startling, glittery, angular entryway, to a particularly pleasant, airy dining room and rooftop patios, Departure offers a visual experience that's uncommon in Portland dining. It's a pop aesthetic that leans heavy on the future tense.
Departure knows what its clientele enjoys and doesn't take too many risks. Though there are a few tricks, most of the menu features straightforward and super-catchy riffs on Japanese cuisine. What's not to like about shoyu truffle rice?
The price point and aesthetic at Departure makes it a restaurant worthy of admiration, but a little difficult to get close to as often as you might like. It's a sexy gem we can be content to look up to.
The Starlet: Gilt Club
306 NW Broadway, 222-4458
The Gilt Club wants you to look. It wants to be desired and fawned over. Still, it isn't so obvious as to be tacky. Instead, the place comes off like a calculated actress of stage and screen, draped in chiffon, casting a cool come-hither look in your direction, batting its eyelashes right there on Broadway. PAC
The dark red interior and banquettes with impossibly high backs create an atmosphere that feels like a loving embrace, while fantastic chandeliers add a bit of a whimsical wink.
The Gilt Club may look like a pushover, but the seasonal menu is super savvy, and more than a little intriguing, smart enough to keep you on your toes with "quail in a jar" and wild boar poppers—not to mention a cracking cocktail program.
The Gilt Club will draw you in for a quickie, but you may realize that to stay through dinner requires having slightly more expensive tastes. That's all right. Everyone needs a place where an ascot isn't an unreasonable fashion choice.
The Lover: Bar Avignon
2138 SE Division, 517-0808
Perched on the corner of SE 22nd and Division, Bar Avignon is one of the most underrated small restaurants in Portland, and one of the sexiest. Part wine bar, part neighborhood siren, when the sun sets this little establishment becomes an alluring haven for lovers, drinkers, and eaters of all stripes. PAC
Impeccably designed, Avignon is easy on the eyes, glowing as the day dims. Seating is intimate but not cramped, and quite comfortable with touches that speak to a mid-century Francophile aesthetic. Sexiest of all is the bright blue bar shining through the windows on a dark night.
The wine knowledge here is stellar, and the seasonal menu always offers something you can't resist (currently, duck confit jojos). All that and a fine cocktail program make for a smart but not intimidating vibe.
With a friendly, welcoming staff and a down-to-earth atmosphere, Avignon draws you in with comfort and holds you there with an affordable menu. After leaving its embrace, you always want to return.