Creativity Sparks at Gray’s Restaurant and Bar

In the hub of the downtown core of Vancouver, Washington, and across from Esther Short Park, Gray’s has a new chef who likes to experiment with flavors and presentation. His plates are artistically presented and his ideas are innovative.

Location: Gray’s: 301 W 6th Street, Vancouver, Washington. Located in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.

Menu: The menu is billed as “Pacific Northwest fare” featuring locally sourced ingredients such as beef, chicken, and pork from area ranches, vegetables from the local farmers’ market as well as its own rooftop garden, and cage-free eggs.

The mains include steak, chicken, pork and seafood. Steaks are featured as Natural Northwest Steaks @1600 degrees. There is a wide selection of unique and original preliminaries ranging from seafood to steak to deep dish onion soup. Steak frites and blackened prawns are signature dishes. The selection of “greens” takes an ordinary salad to new levels! There is a large selection of locally crafted beers and local wines.

Thoughts: Our first dish, a special salad, was a delight to the eyes as well as to the taste buds. Frisee lettuce was the backdrop to picked golden beets, caracara oranges, and candied pecans. All were tossed with a preserved lemon vinaigrette. The preserved lemons, common in Moroccan dishes, impart a lightly salty, smoother on the palate acidic flavor than that of a regular lemon. Served alongside was the Blackened Prawns served over a bed of cheddar potato cake, greens, and roasted butternut cream. It was to die for! Absolutely delicious – my favorite dish!

Our next dish was the calamari strips – lightly battered, fried to a tender bite and served with a malt tartar dipping sauce that added a bit of a tang. I liked that the calamari almost melted in your mouth!

The wow factor continued as enjoyed a vegetable dish: roasted baby carrots served with a unique sauce combining Greek yogurt, smoked honey, sumac spice, and pistachios for added crunch. Our eyes glowed as our server brought us two more dishes to sample.

The pan seared scallops served over mushroom risotto and topped with crispy parsnip flakes originally began as a Valentine’s Day Special. It has since joined the menu as one of the most popular dishes. We finished our meal with steak bite frites layered with a creamy peppercorn sauce and gorgonzola cheese. This was the favorite dish of my companion!

The new interior is large and bright with floor-to-ceiling windows facing Esther Short Park. The decor is on the rustic side with table tops and one feature wall made of reclaimed wood. Not only has the decor been updated, but there are four seating arrangements available. For special occasions, check out the two private rooms. One room seats up to twelve guests and the second seats up to 18.

Diners can relax in the dining area, in the bar, or outside on the patio. I asked when the patio would open. “As soon as someone asks to sit out there” stated Chef Michael. There are enclosed fire jets and patio lights. With the feel of spring now in the air, I have a feeling that it will not be long.

I liked that our server, Cameron, described each dish as he presented it. Our taste buds worked overtime before the dish even hit our palate!

Price Range: Gray’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This article focused on dinners. Preliminaries range from soups at $5-8 to $10-16 for the small plates which we made into a meal. There is also a range of burgers and sandwiches from $14-17. Mains run $14-30. For steak lovers, the Natural NW Steaks at 1600 Degrees run $30-38. There is also a bar menu and happy hour specials.

Disclosure: My companion and I were provided a complimentary dinner for purposes of this review.

Jo-Anne Bowen

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