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Under-the-radar food, views await at South Waterfront; Chef Ryan Gaul says 'Portland is a crazy competitive food city'

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - The seasonally rotating menu at Rosswood features playful starters such as a tuna tartare with homemade lavash and crackling chiccharones on the side. A serious cocktail menu also is constantly updated. There's been a huge boom in Portland hotel restaurants lately. Not the stuffy, old-fashioned kind, but the kind where you might want to linger over drinks with your sweetheart, catch a sunset happy hour or take a friend from out of town.

Rosswood, which opened this spring at the River's Edge Hotel in the South Waterfront district, is one of those spots — serving up a classic menu of Pacific Northwest cuisine with Mediterranean influences and a dynamite cocktail menu.

Go for the bright, airy vibe and close-up views of the Willamette River and busy riverfront life from the two outdoor patios.

We enjoyed a meal there recently, and were so inspired by the experience that a Q&A with Chef Ryan Gaul was in order:

COURTESY PHOTO - RYAN GAULTribune: You have deep roots in Portland's restaurant scene — before we were on the map for food! Tell us how your experience at Pazzo, Caro Amico, Southpark and the Woodsman Tavern have shaped your culinary interests and skills.

Gaul: When I started at Pazzo I had no business working there. All the cooks were better than me. I didn't know the difference between rosemary and oregano. It really forced me to get better fast, or I was going to get fired. I really loved my time working there, and I learned a ton. I got to work with some amazing people, and I'm still friends with a lot of them.

Caro Amico was my introduction to managing people. It was a fun place and those old pizza ovens were really cool to cook with. I worked for my friend Dan Huish at the Bridgeport Ale House, and I really loved working for him. He now owns N.W.I.P.A., and we still do pop-ups and events together. Southpark taught me that you can still do high volume and make it a fine dining experience. I worked there for most of my 30s, and I have great memories from my time there.

Eventually, I wanted to try something new and the Woodsman Tavern offer came my way. That place is so cool, and I really enjoyed working there, but I'm not sure it was the best fit for my style of cooking. I feel like I've learned a lot from all of my time in Portland and have found my own style in cooking and in work that is different and unique.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Seasonal fruits often are the centerpiece of the generous desserts here. Ample seating indoors and on the patio overlooking the river make Rosswood a breezy affair.

Tribune: Rosswood is part of a growing number of boutique hotel-based restaurants in Portland that are run by well-known chefs, with innovative, modern menus. Tell us why you were excited to be part of this trend with the Rosswood.

Gaul: I love working at Rosswood and the River's Edge Hotel because I love to do my job. They have allowed me to build a great team with serious professionals and make some really good food. This isn't cookie-cutter hotel food. Our team works really hard to create a unique dining experience with an awesome view of the river.

Tribune: When you're off work, do you spend much time in the South Waterfront? What are some of your favorite places to eat/drink in the neighborhood — and around Portland?

Gaul: For an after-work beer, I really like Buffalo Gap on Macadam. But usually, I stay close to home in the Southeast. I have been obsessed with So Good Taste Noodle House on 82nd. It's in this random strip mall with a bunch of different small restaurants. They do whole roast pork and really amazing soups with salt and pepper squid.

The Ship Ahoy is my favorite bar in Portland and close to my house. I feel like it's a dive bar that's actually still a dive bar. Not a dive that someone tried to make fancy.

Tribune: Tell us about some of your produce/farm/ranch/seafood purveyors for your dishes at Rosswood, especially seafood — and how does sustainability come into play?

Gaul: We're so lucky to be living in this area and have the resources that we have. I have worked with Laney Family Farms for quite a while now, and they are some of my favorite people to work with. Their beef is the best. Period. They are a small, family-run farm and they do things the right way.

Nevor Shellfish Farm has the best oysters in my opinion. I have known Travis for a long time, and it's been really cool to watch his business grow and his oysters improve from great to amazing. Patrick Thiel is an amazing farmer, and I've used his produce at every restaurant in Portland.

Moving forward we will start adding more and more local produce from people like Hama Hama, Taylor Shellfish, Singing Pig Farm and Sauvie Island Organics.

Tribune: What is one of your favorite things on the menu now, and what was your inspiration behind it? Will the menu change much with the seasons?

Gaul: I really like the octopus. It comes with a super smooth romesco, Calabrian chilis, oil-cured olives, crushed marble potatoes and cilantro. It's a classic dish that has everything you know you want with crispy, but tender octopus.

I also really like the smoked pepper agnolotti stuffed with polenta and cheddar cheese and a sauce of garlic confit, shallots and butter. Really simple yet elevated. The halibut is awesome as well. My chef de cuisine Cody Lucchesi created this dish of charred peaches, grilled king oyster mushrooms, peach cream, arugula and Szechuan peppercorn oil.

The real inspiration from the menu comes from our team as much as it comes from the seasons. We constantly tweak things and work together, and if someone has a good idea, then it goes on the menu. We print menus every day to include specials and one-off items like bycatch fish.

Tribune: With Portland's ever-changing restaurant scene, and so much choice for diners, how much pressure is there to keep at the top of your game? What type of experience does Rosswood offer that other restaurants may not?

Gaul: Portland is a crazy competitive food city, and there are an amazing amount of good restaurants to choose from. I try to not get too wrapped up in the pressure or the scene really. I have always just tried to focus on what it is that we do and do it to the best of our team's ability.

What we offer with Rosswood is unique and creative food prepared with passion and intensity, served in one of the best views in the city. The really cool part of our location is that we are close enough from downtown but hidden, so it's like an escape to our little cove.

Rosswood at the River's Edge Hotel is located at 0470 S.W. Hamilton Ct. For more: www.riversedgehotel.com

@jenmomanderson

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