Gilt Club
306 NW Broadway

As is the case with relationships, periods of my life can be marked by the drinking establishments I've fallen in love with. There was the heavy drinking and dancing period at the Monte Carlo, which burnt down. There was the blackout-drunk karaoke era enjoyed at Trappers, the defunct hotel bar at the Rose Quarter Ramada. After that there was a brief obsession with Dunes, followed by a relaxed romance with the Bonfire Lounge, and then a sordid love affair with the Sandy Hut. At present, it's a huge crush on Portland's latest, ultra-happening supper club, The Gilt Club.

First and foremost, this place is swank. The dining room is lined with cushy booth seating, and mod chandeliers hang over everything. They also have an intimate bar area and comfortable outdoor tables in front.

Whether you want to drink, eat, or both, The Gilt Club will happily accommodate. Try the inventive Fraise to drink (vodka, gin, muddled strawberry, and basil) or my favorite, the Moscow Mule, made with vodka, ginger, lime, and soda. The crazy-good Rosemary's Baby is also one to try, made with gin, fresh rosemary, and pink grapefruit juice, served up in a salt-rimmed glass. As indicated by their inventive cocktails, the Gilt Club isn't afraid to take risks, and we haven't even gotten to the food yet.

Chef Paul Irving, hailing from the Bay Area, roasts and sears amazingly high quality fish and meats, and pairs them with explosive fruit chutneys, avocado, sweet corn, and more. The Bisteeya pork shoulder appetizer arrived looking something like a fancy Mexican taquito, but was by far the best taquito I've ever eaten. The pork was shredded and rolled into a light crispy cylinder and served with an addictive, mildly sweet rhubarb ginger chutney. The Club's charred beef sirloin tartare (raw beef) is mind-blowing, and curiously, goes great with the chunks of avocado that dress up the plate. Or check the poached rock shrimp and prawn parfait, coated with huge chili flakes and bathed in a sweet and tangy mango and red pepper cocktail sauce.

I find the best way to eat at the slightly spendy Gilt Club is to split a few appetizers, then share a main course. For instance, the pan-roasted halibut with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, green beans, heavenly oven roasted tomatoes, and chunks of applewood bacon over a bed of rich Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. While a seemingly schizophrenic dish, the salty, sweet, and buttery flavors and the crispy, flaky, tender, and smooth textures are like an ecstasy trip for your mouth. The seared black cod over saffron scented chorizo and potato stew is another blockbuster, as are the pork medallions with peach-cherry salsa, served with gourmet potato salad.

For being a fine dining establishment, The Gilt Club doesn't go over your head. The ingredients in each dish are recognizable and the space and servers urge you to have a good time rather than sit up straight with your hands in your lap. All this, of course, is why I'm so smitten. After a long wait, Portland finally has a new spot to fall madly in love with. ■