“Like that musty yet undeniably romantic Madrid hangout where you pretended to practice your Spanish during your college year abroad, this loud, chaotic, crowded, sometimes steamy wine bar never strays far from your thoughts.”
— Portland Monthly, April 2008. Portland’s Best Wine Bar.
The fungus, Botrytis Cinerea, shrivels up grapes and robs them of much of their juice. In some cases the wine made from these fuzzy raisins is exquisite. Those clever Brits nicknamed this mouthful of a mold “The Noble Rot.” Kimberly Bernosky had a vision for a restaurant that would bear this peculiar name and Courtney and Leather Storrs helped her realize it.
The restaurant opened in May of 2002 in what looked like a two story garage on Southeast 28th and Ankeny. An ancient plank of Fir split the diners from the staff and a little shoebox of a kitchen pumped out hot food as Leather made salads, sandwiches and charcuterie, while yelling. Kim and Courtney introduced the idea of wine “flights”: three wines organized around a theme (varietal, geographical, producers, etc…). Portland freaked out. The Rot was at once sophisticated, welcoming, educational, delicious, vibrant and wacky.
The food was wine driven- small, seasonal plates designed to support the rotating offerings from Kim and Courtney. There were signature dishes almost immediately: onion tart, Noble salad, our gooey mac and cheese and a deceptively simple brownie with caramel and vanilla ice cream. We also flexed a little bit, serving more elaborate dishes featuring local fish and meats, foraged mushrooms and (gasp) foie gras. Willamette Week named us Restaurant of the Year in 2003.
The second floor of Noble Rot contained the office (a desk amid refrigeration and dry storage), our production kitchen and the private dining room (the same room actually). Food prepped during the day was run downstairs. All night long chefs were scurrying upstairs to replenish supplies. Bitching about inconvenience was offset by superior gluteal development.
Private events have always been a big part of Noble Rot’s identity. We have hosted wine tastings, weddings, book clubs, bachelor parties, cooking classes and canning seminars, to name a few. The ability to participate in so many various events gave Noble Rot a dynamic quality that was very appealing. This tiny restaurant was important and people from around the country wanted to know about us and to visit us. Noble Rot became greater than the sum of its parts.
In 2008, when we moved to the Burnside Rocket Building, on Eleventh and Burnside, we shed a lot of funky. Our new space, on the fourth floor of a modern building, is suave and airy with a panoramic vista of the entire city. We have a liquor license so you can booze it up before your burgundy. We have a muscular kitchen that can handle sophisticated preparations and significantly more business. We have a 3000 square foot organic garden on our rooftop that supplies produce and inspiration 7 months out of the year. We even have a real office.
We grew up a little but we didn’t sacrifice our spirit. We still have a private dining room for anything you can dream up. Courtney and Kim continue to offer innovative flights and hard-to find, delicious wines at reasonable prices. And the food, while broader in scope, continues to reflect seasonality and creativity in the service of our wine program. We remain dedicated hosts, committed to providing a seamless, enjoyable experience. Don’t worry, we’re still a little kooky. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can still hear Leather yelling.