On any given night, you can stroll by and spy a chandelier through the windows casting a soft glow, and inside a convivial sparkle that moves from the intimate wood-paneled bar to the glass-walled dining room, and on summer nights, flickers across the outdoor patio. At this storied restaurant, there’s something for everyone.

“For me the supreme compliment from somebody is when they look at the menu and say I don’t know what to have, everything sounds so good,” says executive chef Annie Cuggino. “I want our food to be approachable and have things that people recognize as comfort foods,” she adds. “But I want to do that with a little twist, maybe adding fancier ingredients than people would use at home.”

This philosophy of elevated comfort food plays out from the appetizers (think duck confit spring rolls with wasabi ginger sauce or house made rabbit pâté) to main dishes, say, grilled halibut cheeks with hazelnut ancho romesco, charred wild onions, fingerling potatoes, and microgreens. Many of the dishes at VQ (what the regulars call it) are vegetable forward. “We have beautiful vegetables here in Oregon that change with the season,” says Cuggino. “We like to make them the star of the plate.”

The menu changes slightly each day, and is shaped by whatever ingredients a local farmer hauls through the front door. That farmer might be Renée Oberdorf of Mizuna Gardens who specializes in heirloom salad greens, or Sheldon Marcuvitz of Your Kitchen Garden. Cuggino sources from famed forager Lars Norgren for mushrooms, berries, nettles, and other wild edibles. “We also work with Stacey Givens from The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen—it’s an urban garden and they supply us with micro radishes and carrots, things that make a plate special.”

In addition to a menu that celebrates ingredients from the Northwest, the extensive wine list offers 35 wines by the glass and more than 200 bottle selections, both with a focus on local producers. Like the farmers, nearby winemakers often deliver to the door. With the warm weather near, the chef knows that John Paul of Cameron Winery will soon swing by with his Giovanni pinot blanc or Saignée of pinot noir.

“We always get excited over the first signs of spring with rhubarb, nettles, and ramps,” says Cuggino. Today, the chef welcomed in the first delivery of nettles. When asked how she’ll use the wily green—especially noted for a peppery punch, the chef revels in the possibilities. This week, she says, the nettles will make their way into a crepe filling for weekend brunch, and into a vibrant green, velvety soup. “We also like to make nettle pesto and spread it on pizza,” says Cuggino.

She pauses, and considers adding the purée into a risotto. “We’ve been getting great Oregon black truffles this year,” she muses, “and nettles and the black truffles go so well together.” Like many chefs, Cuggino knew from childhood that she wanted a career in the kitchen. “There was no other field I was entertaining,” she says.

After attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, she honed her skills cooking in kitchens from Manhattan to New Orleans.

An affection for southern cooking endured. It’s an influence you can taste in dishes like the pan fried Rain Shadow Farm chicken that’s served with a side of creamy white cheddar grits. Her stint in the south was followed by traveling across the country, seeking a place to put down roots.

“I had San Francisco in mind, but then stumbled across Portland,” says Cuggino. She was 26-years old and Wildwood and Higgins Restaurant and Bar were on the verge of opening. The now fluent farm-to-table food scene was just beginning. “I felt like my timing was perfect,” she says.

When she interviewed with Dennis King, the owner of VQ, one of his pivotal questions was: Can you make Ossobuco? “That’s his favorite food,” says Cuggino. It’s now the signature dish for the restaurant, and nearly twenty years later, still a standby for regulars. “I use a lot of red wine, probably more than most,” says Cuggino when pried for tips on cooking the classic Milanese dish.

The chef is easy to spot when working the kitchen—she’s petite, sprightly and often sporting a wide, colorful headband. In a space similar in size to a Manhattan studio, set between the narrow bar and sunlit dining room, she and her team churn out dishes for the 85-seat restaurant that doubles capacity when the patio opens.

Although tiny, the open kitchen does have a great view. From there, the chef can watch summertime unfurl in the patio garden, or wave to regulars at the bar—where gold plaques pay tribute to longtime friends of the restaurant. She’s also seen a proposal or two transpire.

“I still love it,” she says. “People ask if I’m too tired to cook when I go home—well, no,” she says. “I just love food.”

Veritable Quandary (VQ) is located downtown on the Portland waterfront at 1220 SW 1st Ave and is open seven days a week serving lunch and dinner daily, as well as Saturday and Sunday brunch from 9:30am every weekend. Lunch hours span from 11:30 am to 3:0 0pm, and dinner from 5:00 pm to 10:00pm. The bar is open until 2:30am every day. For more information and reservations, call 503.227.7342 or visit online at www.veritablequandary.com.