Duck and chanterelle dolmas with grape conserva.

Casual Transcendence

Park Kitchen

422 NW Eighth Ave 503-223-7275 parkkitchen.com

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The grueling marathon of nightly dining required to write a restaurant guide quickly teaches a critic that even in a city of countless well-executed meals, few stand out as truly unique and original. Park Kitchen routinely offers the exception. Founded by a chef who learned to tie his apron strings at some of Portland’s most influential restaurants, this six-year-old establishment was among the first of a new class of local eateries that ushered in the city’s finest era of dining. But unlike its peers, Park Kitchen hasn’t been content simply to produce exceptional Northwest fare. It revolutionizes the category.

Close contenders: DOC, Le Pigeon, Sel Gris

Executive chef and owner Scott Dolich established a pedigree at Pazzo, Zefiro, Higgins, and other restaurants before launching this North Park Blocks eatery in 2004. Chef de cuisine David Padberg joined him in 2005 after serving a stint as the original sous-chef at the acclaimed Clarklewis and cofounding the Axis Supper Club. Together, Dolich and Padberg combine seasonal, yet often disparate, ingredients into blissful, rambunctious medleys that leave you with a strong desire to lick your plate. And with its homey lime-green walls and earthy mismatched tableware, this is the sort of unpretentious spot where plate-licking might be perfectly acceptable, so long as you did it with confidence.    

Entrées can be outstanding, but Park Kitchen’s menu is best enjoyed by ordering a variety of small sharable plates, divided into “hot” and “cold.” A chilled beet soup brightened with tart yogurt and Dijon mustard is anointed with oxtail confit, a far tastier garnish than parsley. Diminutive, moan-inducing French crêpes stuffed with duck confit rest atop a savory yet slightly tart sauce of basil and roasted peaches. And for a more memorable take on Belgian fries, try the tempura-fried green beans and spears of salty bacon, served in a paper cone.

While dipping deep-fried bacon into tarragon-spiked aioli may seem like high-risk behavior, skipping dessert—the world’s lightest-ever olive-oil cake topped with seasonal fruit, for instance—is by far more perilous. And you could take a healthier route to the dessert tray. No Portland restaurant so honors vegetables like Park Kitchen—try the braised celery hearts served over a rich, paprika-spiked bath of pocha beans and Oregon chanterelle mushrooms. —MT