written by Kerry Newberry
Is the most beautiful dish the luminous beautiful dish the luminous ceramic orb cradling Oregon Dungeness crab with silky mushroom custard and stone-ground grits? The whisper thin slices of turnips checkered across rockfish with huckleberry puree and earthy shitake mushrooms—or the sunny meringue snug in a scooped-out lemon sprinkled with lemon thyme leaves?
These are but a few of the wonderful and wildly inventive dishes dreamed up by chef Matthew Lightner at Ōkta, the Willamette Valley’s latest epicurean destination. You might know Lightner from Portland’s Castagana, where he built a devoted following with his farm and forage-inspired menu. He then alighted to New York City for a stint at Atera, earning the acclaimed Tribeca restaurant two Michelin stars.
His return to Oregon brings this immersive fine-dining experience that taps into all the senses. Each dish resembles a mini work of art—exquisite in presentation with a depth of flavor that verges on symphonic. The ingredients hail from the restaurant’s nearby one-acre farm and kitchen lab, where a team grows heirloom fruit and vegetables, bakes bread from an outdoor wood-fired oven and has a dedicated fermentation chef.
Recently, the restaurant expanded the ways you can partake in its enchanting dinners. In addition to its signature tasting menu (fifteen to twenty courses on weekends), you can head to the subterranean lounge, a softly lit space that offers a respite from the world with exceptional service and an à la carte menu.
Bar snacks might include an umami-laden tart with slivers of fragrant truffles or blue curry squash topped with grilled caviar. For the ultimate match, tap into sommelier Ron Acierto’s deep wine list that’s packed with rare bottles both global and local (yes, that is a 1990 Eyrie Vineyards pinot noir). As he jets in and out of the glowing walk-in wine cellar and pours wine tableside, the stories Acierto shares only add to the wondrous feast.
618 NE 3RD ST.