June 15, 2024


World's finest Food

Dumpling house Dough Zone plans Portland riverfront opening in former Lucier space

A beloved Seattle dumpling franchise is opening shop in a downtown Portland space best known for the high-end restaurant that flamed out there more than a decade ago.

Dough Zone Dumpling House has been making a name for itself in the Seattle area since 2014, when owners Jason and Nancy Zhai opened their first location in Bellevue before expanding to eight locations around the city, with two more in California’s Silicon Valley.

Now, the successful franchise will expand to downtown Portland, as first reported by Eater Portland, setting up shop in a more than 7,500-square-foot, glass-walled space on the South Waterfront. The 1910 S.W. River Drive location was originally designed for high-end restaurant Lucier, which invested $4 million into the operation before closing at the end of 2008 after only seven months.

Lucier, which attempted to emulate the kind of fine dining experience found in New York or Paris, received poor reviews in The Oregonian, Portland Monthly and Willamette Week, all of which blasted the restaurant’s over-the-top aesthetic and underwhelming menu.

Food critic Karen Brooks, then writing for The Oregonian, critiqued a dissonance between the upscale decor and the poor food in a C- review published just before the restaurant closed.

“The feeling of disconnect peaked one night while sitting in an oversized leather chair, hunched over an undersized — but glitzy! — table, trying to eat caviar from a hollowed-out egg served on a pedestal with a fancy silver spoon,” Brooks wrote. “Maybe it worked for the shah of Iran.”

Head chef Pascal Chureau called the criticism “unfair” in a 2010 interview with The Oregonian, though he acknowledged that Lucier was ultimately a poor concept for Portland.

“The economy wasn’t suitable for that kind of restaurant — beautiful, but high prices,” Chureau said. “The timing was not so perfect, and maybe the location wasn’t perfect as well.”

Since Lucier closed, the waterfront building has been home to short-lived restaurant Quartet, which shut down amid accusations of mismanagement and unpaid bills, and most recently River Space, a venue self-described as “the Northwest’s most polished venue for special events of every size,” taking advantage of the upscale design and views of the Willamette River.

Dough Zone is known for their signature xiao long bao – soup dumplings filled with pork, chicken and crab meat, which run $7.95 for six pieces – as well as their pork-filled bao, which cost $8.95 for four pieces. The restaurant also sells sandwiches made with their steamed buns, as well as noodle dishes and desserts.

With dishes priced between $6 and $9, Dough Zone isn’t likely to suffer the same fate as Lucier, where a couple could expect to spend $250 for dinner – an amount that apparently didn’t sit well with most Portlanders, especially in the thick of the Great Recession.

Dough Zone is expected to take some time updating the space from its current design, going for a “stylish, modern Chinese” aesthetic, Eater reported. It’s expected to open in spring 2022.

It’s the second major dumpling chain to open in the Portland area in recent years. Taiwanese-based dumpling chain Din Tai Fung opened a spot at the Washington Square Mall in Tigard in 2019, nearly a decade after it first expanded to Seattle.

–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB