Funky. Eclectic. Hip. The newest addition to the burgeoning Alberta Arts District fits right in with its neighbors.
The Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill adds a zesty drop of flavor to an already-diverse streetscape. The eatery joins the Northeast Portland district's established lineup of multifaceted bistros offering everything from Mexican food to pastries to soul food to pizza.
"Typically, we're going to have four to seven different kinds of fresh oysters on the half-shell," said Peter Hochman, the resaturant's owner. "Our chef, Eric Bechard, spent the last year and half in the Heathman Hotel kitchen. We're very geared toward Northwest cuisine."
The Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill, which opened this past weekend at 2926 N.E. Alberta St., is Hochman's first foray into restaurant ownership after three decades in the business. A North Portland resident, he felt that the location, ambience and artistic energy of Northeast Alberta was just right for the kind of place he envisioned opening.
"It was very important for me to open my business in North or Northeast," Hochman said. "I wanted to keep it on this side of the river (the east side), I'm very tied to the community and I want to be part of the development of North and Northeast.
"The Alberta District just feels like home to me. It's a thriving community, it's very eclectic — you have artists, you have developers, you have retail businesses, and a very solid group of neighborhoods surrounding it. It was the right time at the right place, basically."
Hochman had narrowed his choices to Alberta, North Mississippi Avenue and North Interstate Avenue before making his decision.
"I kind of missed the boat on Mississippi, and Interstate is still a few years away, I think, in terms of restaurant development."
The final choice of locations, though, came down to his tattoos.
"About two years ago, I had a big jellyfish (tattoo) put on," he said. "It was odd, because when I first looked at this site (on Alberta) … it had been a sushi place. It had jellyfish all over the windows, and huge jellyfish chandeliers.
"So I knew I had to be here."
As a first-time business owner, the fact that his building had previously been a restaurant loomed large in Hochman's thinking; having existing facilities like a kitchen with ventilation system in place saved him a large amount of startup capital. After renovating the kitchen and bringing in modern equipment, he set out to decorate the place with certified Alberta flair.
And his prices, too, are geared toward the character of the neighborhood and its clientele — young, diverse and perhaps not as well-heeled as the denizens of Portland's Westside arts district, the Pearl.
"Our prices for appetizers run from $4 to $9, and our entrees run from $8 to $18 with a large spread in the $12, $13, $14 range," Hochman said. "I really want the neighborhood as my base. I want somebody to be able to come in here, have a seat at the bar, have some oysters, something to drink, maybe a bite to eat and get out of there for less than $20."
Despite its name, the Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill isn't a seafood place, although there will always be seafood selections on the menu, Hochman said. He emphasized that he aims to buy his ingredients from local, organic farms whenever possible, and to maintain a menu, atmosphere and staff that remain true to the surrounding neighborhood.
"And the bathrooms are really cool, too," he said, laughing.
And Hochman doesn't plan to be a remote, absentee owner. He plans to share managerial duties with his employees, and will spend at least a couple of nights every week waiting tables, so as to maintain a close rapport with his customers.
In addition, the oyster bar will jump on board with the popular Last Thursday art gallery opening tradition on Alberta Street. Hochman said the restaurant will show the work of local artists in two-month rotations.
"I've always believed that restaurants have to be part of the fabric of the community," he said.
The Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill: 2926 N.E. Alberta St. Phone: 503-327-4250. Open every night except Tuesday.