THE YEAR IN FOOD
Portland’s 2013 Eating Cheat Sheet
In 2012, global boundaries blurred, crazed comforts ruled (again), and seafood made a splash, at last. The following dishes and moments still linger in memory. Consider them a road map for good eating in 2013, listed in no particular order.
Homemade Biscuits at the Farmer's Feast
Two unlikely food nerds are translating the art of mushroom foraging, yanked-from-the-ground goodness, and heritage hog farming into glorious market soups and pop-up meals. Now, Kathryn Yeomans and Roger Konka are unveiling pitch-perfect biscuits and righteous homemade jams—the stars of a recent pop-up brunch—at the winter farmers market at Shemanski Park, opening this week downtown. Think all-butter beauties, with crispy bronze top to bottom, dabbed with deep, vanilla-scented green gage plum jam. The dream is alive in Portland, for $6. Saturdays, through Feb 23
Four Courses at Roe
Approachable modernist seafood and forward-thinking desserts unfold in ever-changing surprises three nights a week in Trent Pierce’s new aquatic speakeasy. One evening’s haul: magnificent Oregon razor clams with gum balls of roasted potatoes and strangely edible flotsam and jetsam, plus chocolate mousse reborn as mad Kit Kat sided by marshmallow gelato. Roe Mama!
Warm Chocolate with Praline Ice Cream, Coffee, and Date at Castagna
The almond ice cream is a pale yellow ovoid of frozen luxury cradled in a “nest” of forbidding heavy granite. Long, crisscrossed twigs of stretched meringue rest on top, each a jolt of sweet crackle and visual pun. Hiding below: black cherries snuggling like chicks and birch syrup as thick as sap. Justin Woodward didn’t need to put a bird on his otherworldly creation—he merely created the best dessert of 2012, part of a collection of high-flying finishers. Woodward soars in his own sweet league. You must taste it.
Four-cup Chicken at Aviary
This potent riff on a Taiwanese dish sums up Aviary’s globe-hopping double-dares. Elegant coils of chicken—poached, seared, and clutching inspired bits of dried apricots and scallions—stand upright in an iconic Chinese broth sharpened by the inspiration of tomato water. The real excitement is found bobbing around the edges: opium-caliber blobs of creamed taro root intoxicated by truffle perfumes. You don’t so much eat it as inhale it.
Sushi and Sashimi at Hokusei
Jiro isn’t the only one dreaming of sushi. Chef Kaoru Ishii ponders the realm of the raw and delivers the best sushi and sashimi in Portland, ever. From a parade of pristine pleasures comes rare local finds (like fresh Oregon sardines) and a blackboard of foreign species you’ve never heard of, all cut and draped like an Italian suit. Order the omakase and just let the man go.
Pork Burger at the People’s Pig
It’s hog heaven from a food-cart window. Cartmeister Cliff Allen grinds his own pork shoulder and belly, then gently poaches the blend like a fine sausage. Seared to order over mesquite wood, the plump patty gets a rousing boost of sweet-hot mustard, cart-pickled red onions, and shreds of just-grated cheese that melt slowly on impact. Open daily at SW Washington Street and 10th Avenue
Fresh Clam Chowder with Smoked Bone Marrow at Ox
From the breakout restaurant of 2012 comes chowder as you’ve never had it, served with the epiphanic shock of a smoked marrow bones and fierce chiles jutting bravely from a dainty pond of butter, ocean brine, and cream. The fun begins when you scrape the marrow and chiles into broth teeming with scallions and popped-opened clams. This is tear-across-town eating and destined for iconic Portland status.
Corn Cakes at Sweedeedee
A new alt-cafe with a suddenly crazed following and the best pancake plate around—dense billows of corn comfort snuggling baked eggs, stewed greens, bacon flaps, and a mini vat of spill-your-own maple syrup.
Vegetables at Ava Gene’s
Nice to see a produce obsession to match the curated salamis and meaty pastas at Duane Sorenson’s rising Italian eatery. Chef Joshua McFadden devotes nearly one-third of the menu to a quiet excitement of vegetables, juxtaposing raw sunchokes, snappy pears, and Sardinian cheese; making magic with cauliflower; or transforming humble rings of Delicata squash fritters into a sweet, crispy indulgence.
Mapo Dofu at Smallwares
What the kitchen calls mapo dofu is more accurately a striking reinvention of the Sichuan classic. Instead of the usual firecracking hunks of pockmarked tofu, Ware imagines the bean curd’s silken interior in a supremely elegant Japanese egg custard, then ignites a shrieking homage to mapo on top. Cool custard against whooshes of Sichuan peppercorn tingle, pork crumbles, and fermented black beans is just fantastically good.
Bavarian Croissant at Fressen Artisan Bakery
With the burnished earth and chew of a fresh pretzel, a daring crown of salty crunch, and possibly an entire stick of buttery croissant goodness, this rustic beauty may be the best $2 you’ll spend all year. Now that farmers market baker Edgar Loesch has opened a brick-and-mortar, we can eat them every day, just like vitamins.
Smoked Rainbow Trout Mousse at Noisette
A food artist’s rendering of smoked fish—mousse-like clouds rising alongside homemade fennel crackers, cactus-like forms of sea beans (the salty asparagus of the sea), and doodles of watercress creme fraiche. Each bite is a shifting landscape of soft, sharp, crackle, discretion, and sexiness. I could eat it every night.
Cannelé at Courier Coffee Roasters
His tools are an under-the-counter oven and a Swiss Army knife for scraping vanilla beans. That didn’t stop bike-riding micro-roaster Joel Domreis from baking 2012’s biggest surprise, a compelling French cannelé, its slightly bitter, burnt-sugar shell so intense that the custardy interior barely registers as sweet.
Salads at Ned Ludd
Though known as a wood-firing mad man, Jason French turned out to be best salad collagist in town. Pickled cherries, home-smoked duck bacon, and curious greens like purslane and chrysanthemum march through assemblages built around contrast, discovery, and beautiful balance. On any night, in any season, you want a collection of them.