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News / Life / Clark County Life

Food & Drink: Grays brightens up both menu, bar

By Rachel Pinsky
Published: March 1, 2019, 6:02am
4 Photos
The newly renovated Grays restaurant and bar at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.
The newly renovated Grays restaurant and bar at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. Photos by Rachel Pinsky Photo Gallery

Grays restaurant and bar in the Hilton Vancouver Washington was recently remodeled. If you haven’t been there lately, you won’t recognize it. It’s as if the old restaurant and bar enjoyed a spa week in Tulum, allowing it to freshen up and relax.

The ceiling has been painted a bright white, reflecting the natural light that now streams into the room. Reclaimed wood has been judiciously added to give a Pacific Northwest feel, and the bar has been expanded and updated with a shelf devoted to amber spirits from the Pacific Northwest. The bar has a roll-up door to allow patrons to breathe fresh air in the warmer months.

General Manager Mike McLeod, a connoisseur of craft beer, was part of the team that coordinated the renovation (designed and constructed by Siteworks in Portland). “Our bar was too small,” he said. “Fourteen people felt crowded.” The beer taps have been expanded from fewer than a handful to sixteen, with many local favorites from popular Vancouver breweries, such as Loowit Brewing’s Shadow Shinobi IPA and Fortside Brewing’s juicy Orange Whip IPA.

In this spirit of renewal, the Hilton hired Chef Michael Charpentier, a Vancouver native who remembers the excitement surrounding the opening of the hotel downtown. He explained, “I grew up on 29th and Daniels. I went to Lincoln. I graduated from Shumway before it was the arts school. I went to Hudson’s Bay and Clark College. This is a big deal for me. My parents are super stoked.”

If the sample dishes that I tried are any indication of the changes to come, the new Grays may be one of the most exciting places to eat in Clark County. The Chef prepared a creamy leek and mushroom risotto with seared scallops topped with crispy strips of toasted parsnip and a bright emerald sprinkling of fresh chives.

Accompanying it was a gorgeous golden beet and citrus salad — a vivid ring of roasted golden beets, cara cara oranges and crimson blood oranges lightly bathed in a goat cheese vinaigrette topped with shaved fennel and green sprigs of fennel fronds studded with toasted pepitas. The food tasted as fresh and delicious as it looked.
Charpentier, like many of his contemporaries, focuses on sourcing local and seasonal ingredients. The most local and seasonal ingredients on the menu come from the hotel’s rooftop garden. This chef plans to expand with some help from his mother, an avid and talented gardener. He receives fresh produce daily from Pacific Coast Fruit and looks forward to foraging at the Vancouver Farmers Market this spring and summer.

Several years ago, Hilton Worldwide required that all of its hotels use only cage-free eggs and crate-free pork. Charpentier plans to extend these rules to all proteins. “Just like the sourcing of fresh, local produce, fresh, local proteins taste better. I feel better serving something that I know had a decent life.”

Menu changes will reflect the diversity of the kitchen staff. Currently, there are four cooks from India. Charpentier explained, “Let’s use these other cultures populating the kitchen.” In the works is a version of the popular Bombay street food called vada pav, nicknamed the Bombay Burger, a deep fried potato dumpling in a bun sliced in the middle and served with chutney.

The new menu will have gluten-free options and more plant-based dishes. A pork chop and possibly half a roasted chicken (roasted in a pan with vegetables that soak up the juices for the chicken while cooking) may find their way to your table. Beer pairings are on the horizon.

Not only is the bar larger, but Lead Bartender Steve Weaver is a mad scientist and a tinkerer. He’s interested in creating fresh, seasonal cocktails that you won’t get anywhere else. On my visit, he was experimenting with a vegan foam made from aquafaba (leftover liquid from a can of chickpeas). This foam had the consistency of whipped egg whites but with a cleaner flavor and without the unpleasant sulfur smell of egg whites. He spooned this foam on top of a drink made with Crater Lake Vodka, St. Germain, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup.
“High-end dining is trying to be more casual. Pubs are trying to make food you wouldn’t find at a pub,” opined Charpentier. His goal is to reach this sweet spot of elegant but approachable.

According to McLeod, the Hilton plans to make some changes to the patio before spring. I regret not spending time sipping cocktails and eating small bites out there last summer. Like everyone else, I acted as if the days would be long and sunny forever. I won’t make that mistake this year.

Rachel Pinsky can be reached at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.

If you go

What: Grays restaurant and bar.

Where: 301 W. Sixth St., Vancouver.

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, bar open until 11:30 p.m. daily.

Contact: 360-828-4343 or GraysatthePark.com