Last year was a good one for husband and wife chefs and restaurateurs Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, owners and founders of the award-winning Ox restaurant in North Portland’s Boise-Eliot neighborhood. They published their first cookbook—Around the Fire, a game-changing grilling guide to transform your backyard into a South American asador—and then they picked up the Best Chef Northwest prize at the 2017 James Beard Awards.

Many would rest on their laurels, but not Greg and Gabrielle. Instead, in January 2018, they unveiled their latest project: Bistro Agnes, a classic French bistro in Portland’s bustling West End to replace their previous restaurant, SuperBite.

Bistro Agnes takes its name from Greg’s paternal grandmother, an accomplished cook and host who made everyone feel at home around the table. “What I learned about hospitality I learned from her,” says Greg. “She was so kind, so giving, but she also knew how to have a good time, too.”

It’s a departure from their previous restaurants. Theatrical Ox dishes up Argentine-inspired dishes with a Portland twist from a dramatic central wood fired grill. The now-closed SuperBite offered an eclectic menu of quirky, high-impact dishes drawing on influences ranging from Hawaiian plate lunch to the Michelin-starred eateries of Napa. But Bistro Agnes is much easier to describe. It’s a classic Parisian bistro, full stop.

“When people ask, ‘What is Bistro Agnes?’ I tell them they’re already halfway there. It’s a French bistro. It’s exactly what you think it is,” says Greg. “And we can’t wait to share these classic dishes with everyone.”

The concept might be more traditional than Greg and Gabrielle’s past projects, but they say the focus on technique and heritage that underpins classic French food has always been part of their culinary lives. “I’ve worked in several French restaurants, and it’s kind of my base when it comes to my cooking,” says Greg. “I always pull from French cuisine no matter what I’m doing.”

“We both feel a certain confidence in cooking this style of food,” says Gabrielle. “It has always interested both of us, even before we met. We’ve played with some more modern techniques, and while that’s great, we missed cooking this way. Some of these recipes are hundreds of years old.”

For Americans, French cuisine has served as shorthand for luxury and fine dining for generations. Yet at its heart, French food is comfort food, and Bistro Agnes is a supremely comfortable restaurant. Dark blue-black and teal walls, brass hardware, and low-backed leather booths lit by high-hanging glass globes give the room a secure, confident coziness, the interior equivalent of a perfect cashmere sweater.

The menu, too, reassures, playing the greatest hits of bistro fare. Dishes like onion soup gratinée and pork pâté feel retro yet timely, and classics like duck confit, pork belly, and Toulouse sausage cassoulet built on a foundation of silky white beans promise that unmistakable savor imparted by long, slow, attentive time in the kitchen. “We take great pride in taking the time to properly braise a beef bourguignon or coq au vin,” says Gabi. “As well as the opportunity we have to share these techniques with the cooks we work with. It’s exciting for them as well.”

When we visited, our meal began with a sculptural roasted beet salad studded with hazelnuts, tarragon leaves, and juicy orange supremes, then capped off with a perfectly spherical chèvre croquette, crispy outside, unctuous within. A Belgian endive salad layered crunchy candied walnuts and pungent Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese over plush, juicy slivers of ice-white endive, a light-handed combination of bitter, sweet, and crisp to prepare the palate for richer dishes to come.

For those of you still pining over the loss of SpaghettiOs, SuperBite’s beloved pasta dish featuring tiny O-shaped pasta in a buttery truffled sauce, never fear; it makes a reprise underneath roasted chicken breast accented with an enlivening chive, dill, and parsley herb salad. “SpaghettiOs were originally inspired by a traditional French dish, macaronis aux truffes, so it just made sense to bring it onto the new menu,” says Gabrielle.

Classic Steak Frites (rib eye, the night we visited) arrives accompanied by a sidecar of béarnaise sauce and a tangle of peppery undressed watercress. Thin-cut frites have ample crunch to stand up to bathing in the rich jus beneath the steak. “There’s something about taking that first bite of our steak frites. When you dip it into the béarnaise sauce, it really transports you to Paris,” Gabrielle says.

Bistro Agnes’ devotion to making guests feel at home extends even to the wine list, where Burgundy and Oregon pinot noir get top billing but Bordeaux, the Rhone, and even northern Italy, Austria, and Spain make an appearance, too. Mercifully for those of us who struggle to remember which grapes make up which French wines, the list features varietal alongside provenance, and offers a good range of glass pours as well as an extensive bottle list.

A wide-ranging selection includes fantastic everyday bottles like Brooks’ 2016 “Runaway Red” pinot noir from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, to special-occasion splurges like Châteaux Pinchon-Lalande’s 2006 Deuxième Grand Cru Classé from Pauillac, the same AOC that gives the world Latour and Lafite Rothschild. We savored a lively, food-friendly Domaine Bonhomme Gamay noir from the Loire Valley while a chatty table of sommeliers next to us took a deep dive into some of the more obscure bottles on the menu, including an extra-brut cider from Calvados.

Within each varietal category, Gabrielle explains that the wines are arranged in order from lighter at the top, to heavier and richer at the bottom, allowing customers to make connections between old and new world styles. “If you’re coming in with four people and you have room for two bottles of pinot noir, you could go head-to-head on similarly bodied wines and really get the chance to appreciate the distinctions and similarities,” Gabrielle says.

The cocktail menu also displays a distinctly Francophone bent, with Armagnac, Calvados, and absinthe playing a central role. “I think a good bar program quietly sets the stage for an unforgettable meal,” says bar manager Beau Burtnick. “And French spirits are quite good for exactly that purpose. I’ve always liked showcasing absinthe in particular. I love its complex harmony of herbal flavors and textures, and it’s accompanied by a very compelling history.”

When it was time for dessert, we tucked into tiny snifters of Calvados, an aged apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from the Normandy region of France, alongside crème brûlée topped with Armagnac-soaked prunes and a malted chocolate mousse studded with crunchy pastry pearls and a cloud of Chantilly whipped cream. It’s a perfect pairing, the warm fruitiness of the Calvados slicing through the richness of the desserts like a Laguiole knife, and before I knew it, my spoon was scraping the bottom of the ramekin despite my protestations of being “too full” just minutes before.

Greg says their ultimate goal for Bistro Agnes is to bring diners that same warmth, comfort, and good cheer reminiscent of what he and Gabrielle have found in their favorite Parisian bistros. Walking out into the cold, rainy evening fortified with truffles and Calvados, I felt replenished with enough comfort and good cheer to last a week.

Bistro Agnes is open daily for lunch, 11 am to 2 pm; and dinner, 5 pm to 10 pm Sunday to Thursday, 5 pm to 11 pm Friday and Saturday. 527 SW 12th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. 503-222-0979.



Salade Lyonnaise


Tarte au Chocolat


Soupea L'Oignon