Charred flatbread and housemade butter (right).
Lamb plate to share: roasted loin, belly remoulade, braised shoulder, sausage, spiced
lentils and creamed kale (left). Glazed carrots with mint
gremolata and crispy wheat berries (middle). Smoked mussel skewers with pickle, radish and horseradish aioli (far right). ##Photo by Jeremy Fenske
The interior of Dóttir mixes hip and vintage for an eclectic feel. ##Photo by Mikael Lundblad
Smoked mussel skewers with pickle, radish and horseradish aioli (left). Chicory salad with caramelized onion, sunfl ower seeds, butternut squash vinaigrette and dill (right). ##Photo by Jeremy Fenske

Viking Spirit, Local Wine

Icelandic hotel salutes both native and adopted lands

By Mark Stock

There’s a new hotel in town, and its honoring its Viking heritage with a renegade wine list. KEX, the Icelandic lodging outfit, is set in the heart of Portland’s inner-east side. The Nordic hotel opened last November, after a fair bit of hype surrounding both the building and the accompanying restaurant, Dóttir.

The original KEX opened in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík in 2011. Taking over what used to be a biscuit factory — something the Icelandic word “kex” honors — the hostel quickly became a hot spot, something like a Scandinavian version of the Ace Hotel franchise. Decked out in neatly stacked trinkets, seemingly found furniture, empty birdcages and all kinds of other decorate flotsam and jetsam, the place invites you to stick around and get comfortable.

The Portland venue is just the group’s second location and first venture beyond its homeland. Both locations stress a creative food and drinks program, one that harps on the Nordic love affair with foraging. As such, there’s a creativity and seasonality to the menus, incorporating ingredients from nearby and the bounty that exists within the abundance of fertile land, freshwater and saltwater in the general vicinity. Both Reykjavík and Portland boast access to said expanses and the eclectic and edible riches that reside within.

With so many shared interests, the two towns might as well be sister cities. Both municipalities offer larger-than-life gastronomical delights, incredible natural scenery, fantastic homegrown music and an undying love for bars and their corresponding snacks. Portland’s not quite at the 66th parallel, but the two cities share pretty dreary winter stretches requiring a good deal of booze, feasting and hibernation. Northwestern-ers could learn a thing or two from the Viking mindset regarding seasonal survival, and KEX may offer just that.

The rooms are a combination of shared and private. The former are neatly orchestrated, often with bunk beds. The latter are a bit more expansive, many with private bathrooms and some large enough to house six comfortably. Per most hostels, there’s a communal kitchen space, plus a huge perk resides in the guest-only sauna, made from western cedar and large enough for 12 people.

Part of the hype surrounding the newly opened spot is due to our current infatuation with all things Scandinavian, a trend extending well beyond Oregon. Much of the rest comes from acclaimed chef Ólafur Agústsson, responsible for earning his native Iceland its first Michelin star during his time at Dill in Reykjavík. In the Rose City, he’s working alongside chef Alex Jackson of Ned Ludd fame. Commanding the cocktail program is Lydia McLuen, hailing from buzzing spots like Bar Casa Vale and Palomar. Any establishment in the world would salivate at the thoughts of such a crew.

The new Portland location features house beer and wine via local collaborations. The KEX line of beer is produced at nearby Ross Island Brewing and, so far, includes a kolsch and IPA. They’ve also partnered with resident roasters like Stumptown and Scandinavian breweries like Mikkeller — which also has an east Portland location — for some intriguing sours and porters. The house wine, a white, is made by Coopers Hall, an urban winery just a few blocks from the hotel and restaurant.

Dóttir serves all three meals as well as a pair of happy hour blocks. The dinner menu includes staple Icelandic surf-and-turf options like cod and lamb. The condiments are given the boreal treatment with additions like Skyr, and, presently, there are a lot of inventive takes on root vegetables and winter fare. The duck entrée includes roasted breast and leg confit with farro, pomegranate, arugula and citrus. The lamb is a roasted loin with roulade made from the belly, braised shoulder, sausage, spiced lentils and creamed kale — a cure for even the darkest winter night.

In terms of wine, the offerings are as hip as you’d expect. There’s work from Maloof Wines, Bow & Arrow, Johan Vineyards and others. A good number of the wines are available on draft, only adding to the cool factor. The cocktails, elaborate and thoughtful, marry Icelandic and Pacific Northwest flavors. And the establishment would hardly be Nordic without a proper list of sipping Aquavits, which you can order by the flight.

The impetus to provide plenty of keg wine options was very much a deliberate one. Dóttir’s Sean O’Connor says the format conveys a unique point in the varying processes of the vintners he works with. He also appreciates the green-ness of the practice and its built-in longevity.

“It’s so much more sustainable than bottles, and that’s something I truly believe in,” he says. “I hope that by having a wine like Cameron’s Clos Electrique on the list legitimizes the kegging process as something that should be taken seriously and opens up more doors for us to new partnerships in the future.”

His objective is to keep the list “New Cascadia” focused; that is, the region spanning southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Northern California. O’Connor believes that in a perfect world, wine wouldn’t have to travel all over the place. It would just be enjoyed right where — or in reasonable proximity to — it’s made in the first place.

So far, the KEX wine list is off to a strong start. “We’re working with producers like Swick, St. Reginald and Ovum, just to name a few,” O’Connor adds. “For many of them, this was their first foray into kegged wines. John House, for example, is kegging the still wine destined for Ovum’s sparkling program for KEX — a special white Pinot Noir. We have more exciting one-off kegs coming down the pipeline, including a new single varietal from Cameron.”

Other things gliding along the short-term beltway include a rooftop bar, slated to open at the hotel later this spring. With new and interesting wines ever-present in the region — not to mention a hotel that fully endorses them — it’ll be fun to see how KEX grows alongside the scene.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable