For the past decade, two restaurants have sustained the bustle of Sunset Hill: the pasta extravaganza that is Picolino's, and Walter's, a community favorite for coffee and beer. Walter's closed its doors in November, but locals don't have to wait long for a replacement of sorts. Samara will serve dinner (and, in the future, brunch) rather than all-day drinks but, according to chef Eric Anderson, it will be similarly dedicated to the neighborhood.
Anderson accumulated inspiration for his "wood-fired neighborhood bistro" working at two Portland institutions. At Besaw's Cafe, he noted the particular ambiance of an open kitchen. From his vantage point, "you'd see these people from the neighborhood, you had regulars—it was a nice environment." At Higgin's, he developed an appreciation of seasonality and agriculture from the man himself, Greg Higgins. When Samara—Anderson's first restaurant—opens in early February, expect dishes like charred onigiri with buttery dungeness crab—a dual nod to Asian and French influences meeting in the PNW—and, given the season, plenty of citrus, root vegetables, and black cod. Anderson also prizes rustic ingredients like salsify and celeriac, and sources biodynamic wines alongside heritage breed animals. This includes shaggy-furred Mangalitsa hogs, bred on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Samara is a winged seed—the helicopter apparatus deployed by maple trees every autumn. Back home in Illinois, Anderson grew up with a maple tree in the front yard, but Samara is also the name of a house by fellow Midwesterner Frank Lloyd Wright, designed for a professor to host student gatherings. The warm, wood-and-brick interior of Samara, accented with patina copper and wabi sabi pottery, reflects Anderson's long-standing interest in the Craftsman ethos, as does his choice of suppliers. "They were doing the local, natural movement for a hundred years," he says.
While Anderson's philosophy and food are elevated, his restaurant will be a laid-back bistro: "I like the energy of a place that is more casual and the tables are a little closer together... you come in and you're comfortable. You can be a little loud." The impetus for this place, he says, started with just the grill. "I love the way that even just a piece of toast coming off the wood fire tastes."