Vitaly and Kimberly on the porch at Paley’s Place donning masks and continuing stellar service. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson
Vitaly Paley, Paley’s Place. Andrea Johnson’s first assignment photographing a chef preparing a meal in 2010. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson
Photographer Andrea Johnson’s parents, Marsha and Mark Hagg (front), join Andrea (left) and photographer Robert Holmes for a meal at Paley’s Place with Vitaly Paley joining the table for a moment. ##Photo provided by Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson (from left), Vitaly and Kimberly Paley, and Shirley Brooks
unexpectedly meet at a remote Mexican cenote. ##Photo provided by Andrea Johnson

Time & Place

Portland restaurant icon, Oregon wine advocate closes influential chapter

By Kerry Newberry

As the legend goes, Vitaly and Kimberly Paley’s first stirrings of Oregon came from a basket of morel mushrooms in the kitchen at Au Moulin de la Gorce, a Michelin-starred restaurant near Limoges, where they were both working at the start of their careers. Years later, the allure of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty of farmed and foraged ingredients led them to Portland.

Since then, the couple has created a buoyant community devoted to celebrating the producers who were so often behind the scenes. With each success, they chose to further elevate the farmers and fishers and foragers they worked with, the winemakers and cheesemakers and so many more. The legacy they leave is one of joy, grace and gratitude. And the significant reminder that restaurants — a word that derives from the French verb restaurer, meaning to restore — not only sustain us, they renew us.

Here, we look back on the many meaningful ways that Portland’s most revered culinary couple fed a small city’s soul and helped plant it on the nation’s culinary map.


Decades before Portland turned into a nationally acclaimed food destination, Vitaly and Kimberly Paley elevate the local dining scene when they open their eponymous restaurant in the mid-’90s. Set inside a charming Victorian home with perfect porch seating, the couple set the standard for fine dining with a focus on locally farmed and foraged ingredients.

Devoted patrons often start with the signature George’s Gathered Greens, a seasonal salad mix named for one of Paley’s long-standing farmers who tends 28 acres set in the Cascade foothills of Brownsville, Oregon. “I started working with Vitaly when he started, which means we’ve now worked together every week since 1995,” says George Weppler. “He has a very caring attitude. Kimberly, too. My relationship with Vitaly has been one of the easiest I’ve ever had as a restaurant purveyor. Over the years, we developed a great friendship in addition to our business relationship. I always believe in putting out the best product I can, and I know he does the same.”


Paley’s Place is named The Oregonian’s “Restaurant of the Year.” Karen Brooks details in her piece the many exceptional touches that make the restaurant sparkle: “Put it into a low-key home with a funky porch that holds baskets of farm-fresh produce. Heat slowly over the unstoppable passion of a New York dancer. Cool beneath the exactitude of a Russian pianist. The final dish is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced: part restaurant, part salon, part home. Paley’s Place.”


“Portland is sometimes called the Burgundy of the North,” writes Ruth Reichl, the (former) editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine (now shuttered). “And with good reason, as I found just by walking into a restaurant called Paley’s Place.” The legendary editor also writes, “I took one look at the display of produce at the entrance and knew that I would eat very well.” Paley’s Place officially lands on the nation’s culinary map.

Vitaly Paley with Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash at the Newberg winery’s 20th vintage celebration in 2018.##Photo by Andrea Johnson


An avid cyclist, Vitaly uses his culinary expertise to launch an energy bar on the opening day of the 2003 National Cyclocross Championships in Portland. A year later, the alternative snack made with organic produce from the Northwest rolls out commercially as Paleybar.


Vitaly wins one of the most prestigious culinary awards, James Beard “Best Chef Northwest.” Presented annually by the James Beard Foundation, the honors aim to celebrate, support and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity and sustainability. 


With the help of Portland culinarian Robert Reynolds, the Paleys publish “The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest.” In the book, the couple dives deep into their food philosophy, saying “cooking is about both soulful searching and rigorous technique.” He details their culinary journey from Europe to New York to the Northwest. “Oregon reminded us of France, where ingredients are stars. … We knew we wanted to sustain what we learned in France about being closer to the sources of food. In Portland, we see not only where the food comes from, but who grows it. Here, our food is shaped by connections with people and the ingredients they bring to the restaurant’s door: mushrooms, potatoes, truffles, chestnuts.”


Cochon 555 crowns Vitaly “Prince of Pork.” The national traveling chef competition chooses the winner based on creativity, preparation and overall flavor. Paley’s winning dish includes five-day cedar-smoked prosciutto, consommé royale (bacon and truffle custard, cured ham, chervil), black pudding and bacon hollandaise, pig in a sausage blanket, trotter and hock stew, and a salad of cider syrup-glazed pork skins, apples and rocket.


With radishes as the star, Vitaly wins “Iron Chef: America” on the Food Network. During the competition, challengers are tasked with creating a multi-course meal using radishes in each dish. His winning menu — eventually featured at Paley’s Place — includes creative plates such as radish greens and ricotta gnocchi and a dessert of tarte tatin with watermelon radish caramel sauce, Granny Smith apples, radish greens and mint syrup.


The Paleys start their restaurant hotel empire with Imperial, the wood-fired grill phenom in Hotel Lucia. A hot spot from the start, the restaurant quickly garners national accolades for standout dishes like the fried chicken served with barrel-aged hot sauce and honey.

Food & Wine magazine recognizes Vitaly with an “Empire Builder Award” in a piece spotlighting prolific chef-restaurateurs.

The James Beard Foundation nominates Vitaly as a semifinalist for “Outstanding Chef.”

The Paleys start a long-standing relationship with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, one of many causes the couple supports; others include Metropolitan Family Services and Friends of the Children Foundation through the Classic Wines Auction.


Culinary creativity reaches new heights with a bee-positive project. On the rooftop of Hotel Lucia, honeybee hives are installed. “Vitaly was instrumental in recognizing and supporting me when I was getting started,” says Damian Magista, the founder of Bee Local (now Jacobsen Co. Honey). “I have fond memories of being on the roof and chatting with him about the nuances of honey. Vitaly and Kim have given their souls, nurturing the Portland culinary scene. I wish them a happy and relaxing retirement. They’ve earned it.”

The James Beard Foundation nominates Vitaly as a semifinalist for “Outstanding Chef.”


Vitaly makes a special guest appearance on Esquire Network’s “Knife Fight.” He witnesses the battle of chefs from two of his restaurants, featuring Benjamin Bettinger of Imperial and Patrick McKee of Paley’s Place.

At the Portland Penny Diner, Vitaly rocks the city’s food scene with DaNet, a monthly Russian pop-up dinner and dance party. The epic feasts include traditional zakuski, a blini and vodka bar, a wildly popular ice luge and a DJ spinning Slavic hip-hop tunes.


Paley’s Imperial wins Willamette Week’s “Restaurant of the Year,” garnering this evocative praise: “One of the best fried chicken dishes you’ll ever eat. It’s still served with barrel-aged hot sauce and honey from beehives on the roof, but the bird now drips with juices inside a golden-brown and buttery shell that crackles like paper under a fork. Imperial’s menu begins with always-incredible Parker House rolls that have a crisp shell, which pops like a balloon, and a gobsmacking ponzu-spiked poke salad. By the time you get to the perfectly prepared flat iron steak from the cranked-up wood-fired grill, you’re seeing stars.”


The Paleys, along with partner Garrett Peck, open the highly anticipated seafood-inspired Headwaters at The Heathman Hotel, one of the city’s defining landmarks. “Vitaly is the hardest working chef-owner I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” says Peck. “His knives were never idle, constantly pushing, teaching, mentoring and crafting. A true gift to many people who worked by his side and an inspiration to the culinary community in the Northwest.”


Taking inspiration from travel and tradition, the Paleys open Rosa Rosa on the ground floor of the Dossier Hotel. Named for his grandmother, the restaurant showcases dishes inspired by the couple’s recent trip through Turkey and the Republic of Georgia, as well as their heritage and personal culinary memories.


Headwaters hosts Sustainable Seafood PDX, an ambitious culinary and educational event developed in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. In addition to multi-course dinners, brunch and field trips to the Oregon Coast and Columbia Gorge, the event features panels with fishery experts and sustainable seafood pioneers.


Paley’s Place is named one of “The Best Classic Restaurants in Every State” in a Food & Wine piece celebrating the finest old-school culinary institutions.

Vitaly appears in the 18th — and most recent — season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” as a guest judge for the quick-fire challenge. Catch the replay in Episode 12, where the four remaining Portland chefs create a modern dish with ingredients likely available to pioneers on the Oregon Trail.

Headwaters, Imperial, Rosa Rosa and The Crown, his new restaurant focused on pizza, close due to pandemic-related strains.


Vitaly is highlighted in the Oregon truffle segment on OPB’s “Superabundant,” a new video series on food and food systems in the Pacific Northwest.

The Paleys will hold their final dinner service at Paley’s Place Thanksgiving weekend.

2022 and beyond...

When one door closes, another opens. OWP looks forward to what’s next.


Gratitude & Friendship

A Letter from Andrea Johnson

I know I’m not alone in the shock I felt discovering Paley’s Place was soon to close. Even in a year of constant closures, the news felt surreal, like a punch to the gut. For me, it’s multi-layered: Over the last 26 years, Vitaly and Kimberly Paley have been an integral part of Portland’s culinary scene, the surrounding wine country and, for more than a decade, my own family.

I’ve photographed the Paleys numerous times at their restaurants, including Imperial, Headwaters and Rosa Rosa — all three closed in 2020 as casualties of the pandemic. They were always incredibly gracious, from offering real-time advice on my first assignment photographing a chef preparing a meal — so many moving parts — to allowing me to take over half of Rosa Rosa for a lifestyle photoshoot with actor/winery owner Kyle MacLachlan. Not to mention, Vitaly was unanimously recommended by wineries to write the foreword to my fourth wine book, “Spectacular Wineries of Oregon.”

I’ve been fortunate to call Kimberly and Vito — as many colleagues call him — dear friends. For many years, I’ve celebrated nearly every holiday, birthday and special occasion at one of their tables. I’ve sought their hospitality in tough times, too, especially during the pandemic with its social distancing, my father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and major photography projects canceled, for obvious reasons. Yet, no matter the life event, Vito and Kimberly have repeatedly been there, nourishing both body and soul. 

During the difficult days early in the pandemic, their determination, grit and passion never wavered. The Paleys kept us inspired to cook at home with an Instagram live series, warmed our hearts with contributions to Feed the Mass, a nonprofit for the food-insecure, and continued to innovate with “Paley’s at Your Place,” a carry-out solution during the darkest days of the pandemic. When an ice storm hit Portland the day before their sold-out Valentine’s Day orders were to be delivered, the Paleys booked a nearby hotel to make sure they could successfully execute the special dinners.

No matter the obstacle, every meal and experience has always been exquisitely done and, no doubt, will be until their final dinner service Thanksgiving weekend.

I sent a heartfelt email in response the restaurant’s official closing announcement; Vito quickly replied, “Thank you, Andrea, for the loveliest of words. The time came for us to ride into the sunset. The last couple of years helped us refocus and identify our priorities in life. If it was 10 years ago, we would fight right through it all with gusto and ease. But now, we want to put ourselves first and spend more time together as well as have time and energy for family and friends.”

Chatting with Kimberly before this OWP cover photoshoot, she confided, “What gives us strength and support and so much gratitude is all our customers and our staff. COVID just got in the way and created another layer of fatigue and exhaustion. We wanted to go out healthy, to go out on a high.” I asked them what emotion they wanted to convey in their portrait; their answer was simple: “No regrets.”

Their future retirement surely looks bright and adventurous, too. In fact, I’ve run into them abroad, in a remote cenote in Tulum, Mexico. In 2019, on the last day of a yoga retreat with my fellow wine friend, Shirley Brooks of Elk Cove Vineyards, we decided to take a private tour. Although it was a visually stunning scene, I took only a few photos before diving into the water, enjoying the moment sans camera.

I’ll never forget my astonishment in seeing two figures emerge from the dark cavern. I heard a familiar voice call out “Andrea?!” In disbelief, I replied, “Vito, Kimberly?!” By total coincidence, the Paleys were the only other people in the cenote, not to mention on a private tour with a professional photographer.

Although we all had sought this location for its solitude, there we were, 4,000 miles from home, serendipitously exploring the natural wonder and enjoying every moment, together. The solid connection to the Paleys was now even stronger.

The chance meeting in Mexico and the many memories made in Portland makes letting go of Paley’s Place a truly difficult task. I am fortunate to have made reservations for Thanksgiving before the announcement was made. There, with my parents, we will enjoy one last meal at Paley’s Place. I know it will be filled with gratitude and bittersweet goodbyes.

Although we may forget the finer details of each dining experience, my family will always remember the connection and sense of community the Paleys crafted here in Portland and the greater wine community, too.

Thank you, Vito and Kimberly. Your hospitality, your amazing menus and your influence were nothing short of spectacular. Hope to run into you on your next, well-deserved adventure. Cheers!


Thanks & Good Luck

“The closing of Paley’s Place signals the end of a golden age in Portland restaurants. Paley’s Place was the first restaurant to carry Furioso wines in Portland. Our collaborations with Chef Paley over the years resulted in many hours of world-class cuisine, incredible food and amazing events. We wish them fair winds and following seas on their next adventure.”

—Jim Maguire, Furioso Vineyards

“For at least 16 years, Vitaly, Kimberly and Paley’s Place have been very generous donors to the Classic Wines
Auction/Foundation. Vitaly has donated his time and talents as a featured chef at our auction; he has traveled to Highland Hills Ranch, Oregon wine country and private homes to prepare meals for our guests; Paley’s Place has hosted many winemaker dinner fundraising events and they have donated gift certificates and cookbooks. Their generosity and commitment to their community has made a significant impact and is greatly appreciated.”

—Kristy Anderson, Classic Wines Auction

“It was at Paley’s Place in the late ’90s, where we first fell in love with Oregon Pinot. Paley’s extensive local wine list was our education. We owe Paley’s Place a debt of gratitude for convincing my partner Aedan and me to move here. They will be missed.”

—Dahe Good, Customer/Good Land Company

“Vitaly and Kimberly set a very high bar for the farm-to-fork movement along with, hands down, the best front-of-the-house hospitality in Portland. Whether you ordered one of Vito’s famous burgers or a five-course meal, you were welcomed warmly and treated as if you were the only diners in the room. We have watched Kimberly and Vito pivot through so many challenges in the restaurant world over the last 25-plus years, and they never once missed a step, making sure every dining experience was amazing. They are the hardest working couple in the culinary world, and they will be missed. That said, their culinary legacy will continue to set the standard for dining in the Pacific Northwest.”

—Lynn Penner-Ash, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars

“Paley’s Place always put Oregon first, whether it was greens, olive oil, meat or wine. Vitaly and Kimberly ran Paley’s Place with an unparalleled loyalty to Oregon producers, welcoming both the established wineries and the new kids on the block. From the very beginning, they embodied the real sense of place that we all take for granted now. They paved the way for so many and played a major role in putting Portland and Oregon on the map. We owe them our gratitude and our well wishes for their next chapter. Merci, Kimberly and Vitaly!”

—Kayt Mathers, Play Nice Public Relations

“Over the years, in my role as culinary director of the Oregon Truffle Festival, I have worked with many great chefs from around the world. It is not often I get to work with a chef who is as lovely a human being as they are talented in the kitchen, yet Vito qualifies on both counts. Down to earth and approachable but also a consummate professional with phenomenal culinary instincts, Vito has long been one of my very favorite chefs to work with. He has been a huge supporter, not only of OTF events but Oregon truffles in general. Vito brings the same love he has for our truffles to every aspect of Oregon’s natural bounty, and we honestly can’t imagine what Portland’s culinary scene would look like without his residency at Paley’s Place these last 26 years. It is not hyperbole to say he is synonymous with Northwest cuisine. All of us at OTF hope Vitaly will continue to be a part of showcasing Oregon’s world-class truffles, and it is with deep gratitude and respect that we say, thank you, friend and chef, for all you represent to our region and for all the lives you’ve touched on the journey.”

—Leslie Scott, Oregon Truffle Festival

“Vito and Kimberly arrived in Portland from New York with a dream: a chef-owned/family-run restaurant where superior cuisine — food with heart and soul — could be spread out on a white table cloth by consummate professionals dedicated to a thoughtful, humane enterprise. The Paleys made that dream come true, and even more, to the benefit of the entire Northwest culinary scene.  I worry for today’s dreamers. I’m just not sure that can happen in Portland ever again.”

—Doug Tunnell, Brick House Vineyards & Wine Company

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