Delicious Day Trip in the Gorge With Paul Decarli

September 14, 2015 (Updated December 1, 2015)


Decarli Restaurant and Portland



“Food has always been part of my family and in my life,” says chef Paul Decarli. His great grandparents owned a restaurant and butcher shop in Switzerland, and his grandfather worked for Molinari and Sons, a prestigious San Francisco-based producer of charcuterie, salamis and sausages. It is no surprise one of his most treasured childhood memories is the tradition of family Sunday suppers. “My grandfather would bring all different kinds of charcuteries and sausages home, and my grandmother would cook a fantastic meal — big Italian Sunday dinners,” he says. “And it was simple food, which is what I cook at Decarli today.”

The chef and his wife Janna, who runs front-of-house operations, opened their Beaverton-based restaurant nearly eight years ago. In that time, it’s become a gathering place for the community. Regulars return to the restaurant for soul-satisfying Italian classics with a kiss of the Pacific Northwest. There’s a swirl of tagliatelle with pancetta, sweet corn, shitakes and piave, and spaghetti al dente topped with Oregon Dungeness crab, fennel and shishito peppers.

“We print our menu daily,” says Decarli. “One day my mushroom forager might bring in some great truffles, but next week he has something else.” His dishes reflect the bounty of each season, and he especially relishes the ingredients from spring, summer and fall. “When those seasons hit it’s always a fantastic time. You’ve got great heirloom tomatoes, fresh salmon, just a world of product at your fingertips.” In addition to working with local farmers — including Kingfisher Farm, Cascade Organics and Your Kitchen Garden — Decarli features wines from many Oregon vintners on his menu.

One of his favorite places to vineyard hop is the nearby Columbia River Gorge. He knows the snowcapped peaks, rivers and wildflower meadows well. “Back when I was younger, before I had kids and two restaurants, I’d go hiking, camping and mountain biking in the Gorge,” he says. Now he and his wife tour the area for wine. “We love the Willamette Valley where people go for pinots, but out in the Gorge you’ve got different wines, like sangiovese, nebbiolo and cabernet,” he says. To get into wine mode, check in for a night at Hotel Vintage Plaza, where each of the 117 guest rooms is named after an Oregon winery.


“We print our menu daily,” says Paul Decarli. “One day my mushroom forager might bring in some great truffles, but next week he has something else.”


The Columbia River Gorge

“When you drive out to the Columbia River Gorge, there is a sense of history,” says Decarli. Soaring above the winding roads, and stretching as far as you can see, forested cliffs and wispy waterfalls evoke a sense of wildness that dates back to the days of Lewis and Clark. The scenic area is famous for waterfalls, and while Multnomah Falls promises drama — it’s the second-highest year-round waterfall in the States — other can’t-miss beauties include Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the elegant Horsetail Falls.

You know you are nearing the sporty town of Hood River when the first colorful kites skim across the Columbia River. This windswept pocket is world-renowned for windsurfing and kite boarding, and the grit and glory of riding waves is great fun to watch. But before you take to the waterfront, Decarli suggests lunch at Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom. “I love their beer. The vaporizer pale ale is one of my favorites,” he says. At this destination taproom, the wood-fired pies often rival the beer. “Right now they are making a white pizza with a pesto base, topped with fontina, mozzarella and these beautiful heirloom tomatoes,” says Decarli.


Fuel up with an espresso at Stoked Coffee Roasters, a roasting facility and tasting room boasting beautiful views of the Hood River Waterfront area. Next, head a few doors down for a tour and tasting at Camp 1805, Hood River’s first rum and whiskey distillery. The venture pays tribute to Lewis and Clark and their route through the Pacific Northwest. “I love their white whiskey; it’s something you don’t see very often,” says Decarli.

Continue the road trip — cruising by river boaters, hillside vineyards and a mosaic of orchards — until you reach The Dalles. In the historic downtown, you’ll find majestic murals honoring Columbia River tribes and scenes from the Lewis and Clark expedition.

At the top of the list for Decarli is a visit to Sunshine Mill, an artisan plaza and winery housed in a former flourmill and biscuit factory. “There’s a lot of rich history to it, and I love the way they redesigned the property and building,” he says. The century-old storied structure is the only designated skyscraper in the Gorge area, and was the first building in The Dalles to have electricity — powered by a Thomas Edison Motor still on view today. “We love to get a cheese or meat board and sip some of their wines,” says Decarli. He recommends the sangiovese or viognier.

After this tasty tour, you’ll probably want to linger. Fortunately, all of this is just a day trip away from downtown Portland, where you can book a room at hip Jupiter Hotel before another day of adventure. And you’ll be happy to hear there’s much more to explore: ancient petroglyphs, riverfront trails and stand-up-paddleboard at sunrise. “We love it,” says Decarli. “It’s so close and you get a great sense of place.”

Bruschetta at Decarli by Justin Bailie; Vista House by Chantal Anderson; vineyards by Greg Vaughn; the Sunshine Mill by Lance Koudele.

About The

Kerry Newberry
Kerry Newberry is a Portland-based writer who covers food, wine, farms and travel for a variety of publications. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Fodor’s Travel, Edible Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and more.