A giant jellyfish and tropical fish tank evoke the warm coastline feel of South America where Chef Jaco Smith gains his inspiration for the South American cuisine at LeChon. South Africa born, the love for cooking was introduced to him at a very young age, as he helped his mom cook in the kitchen. Previously, Jaco worked as a Chef in Scotland, England, South Africa and The Greenbrier Hotel, where he learned everything he could about sauces from stellar Chef Peter Timmins. He continued onto a long tenure with the Ritz Carlton at their most highly rated establishments, including Reynolds Plantation and the Ritz-Carlton Oman. From there, he accepted a position as the Executive Chef at The Joule, a luxury hotel in Texas where he met his future wife. Newly married, his bride brought him to Portland without a friend in sight, but he now calls Portland home. He enjoys life along with the local movement of the “driven” Portland chef scene. “It pushes you to excel and create,” he says.
Putting labels like “South American inspired” might be dangerous for some restaurants, but at LeChon let’s not quibble over geographic pettiness. Its dishes like the grilled octopus with chorizo and salsa verde presented with preserved lemon sauce highlights both grill and region. These dishes playfully showoff intuitive flavor skills while others have a lovely, interesting display. Can you fall in love with ceviche that has sweet potato or shrimp as the base and a fluffy hairdo of foam with a pipette barrette? You’ll call the wedding planner, ok? But, don’t miss out; the range of choices is more than adequate. You will love the huge ribs and charred mixed meat grill with sauces you could include in your favorite drink list. Desserts like the passion fruit tart and adorable beignets with sweet caramel dipping sauce are worth noting. Is it possible to have an affair with a restaurant? Indeed it is. Another tug on the heartstrings resides in the bar. Smart flavors and rooted combinations will make you push aside what you thought you liked in a Manhattan or Mojito. Spicy, grilled pineapple in the Mal Humorado tequila-based cocktail shocks the tongue with a slap, but only for a moment before you find yourself picking it up, wanting more. With six-dollar pomegranate cosmopolitans, you’re reminded again that the sun can shine even in Portland rain. For those wanting to try it all, they certainly get a beautiful preview by ordering “What the Chef is Eating,” a multi-course experience served family-style for the table to share, with a steady rotation of dishes that change daily. It is also a new star on the destination map for vegetarians with more than just a few options—they offer an entire vegetarian menu, creating a seamless experience for vegetable-driven diners.
Aside from the tantalizing food, the décor and service at LeChon are plenty pleasing and LeChon hasn’t fallen into the Portland trap of only being able to serve 30 to 50 seats max. There’s a great private event space and an array of other seating options from booths to bar stools, along with chefs kitchen seats and outside seating. For the summer months, the new outdoor kitchen restaurant, Cocina, will cast the net further to Ecuador and Brazil to name a couple, calling out to those who love trying international flavors.