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November 27th, 2002 Caryn B. Brooks | z-Miss Dish
 

Identity Crisis

     
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GENTLE READERS,
It's so nice to see you all again. After her annual whirlwind tour of the East Coast, including stops in New York City and Philadelphia, Miss D. is pleased to be back in Portland, Ore. She could take this space to recount all the classy grubhouses she ate in and rub your noses in the level of artfulness she witnessed, but she won't. The truth is, despite what some self-congratulatory arbiters of "saveur fare" have to say (how can we ever thank them for blessing us with their very presence in our humble burg?) Portland stacks up very nicely when it comes to high-end cuisine, all things considered. But, according to this self-congratulatory arbiter, it's the lower end where the City of Roses begins to stink.

Why, after nearly two centuries of rolling around in some of the best bounty nature has to offer, are there no Oregon regional dishes? Sure, there are ingredients: our pinot noir, our salmon, our Dungeness crab, our Tillamook cheese. But we've got no Philly cheesesteak, no New York bagel, no Cincinnati chili. It's the same reason you can count the number of longstanding family-run restaurants in Portland on one fork--assimilation. In cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the rich history of bagel-passing by generation saturates the restaurant scene and the culture at large. Going for pumpernickel and kippered salmon at a place called Barney Greengrass "The Sturgeon King" that was started in 1908 by its namesake, Miss Dish found a Greengrass who works the cash register up front. Makes you wonder what would have happened if Wildwood's Cory Schreiber had stuck with the family business--Dan and Louis Oyster Bar.

The Italian market in Philadelphia thrives with multigenerational support. Did you even know that Portland once had an amazing Italian market on the east bank? The last vestiges of it, though hardly visible, burned to the ground when a fire tore through the Monte Carlo restaurant last year and took with it storage areas that some Italian farmers used. Where have all the Italians gone, anyway? Thank god the Greeks haven't left. And, it seems, the Asians are just getting started.

Maybe it's the rain. We can blame a lot on the rain--it's convenient. Perhaps the old people all left to dry out their bones in Palm Springs and took with them the guardianship of tradition, leaving their offspring to fend for themselves and pick up work at Intel.

Still, Miss Dish is convinced it's not too late. She, for one, will try to stop moaning about the lack of tradition here in this city and try to seek out the starters. She will celebrate the little steps we take in creating a culinary identity. She will applaud the putting down of roots. She will lionize any restaurateur who comes up with a dish that deserves the name "Portland" in front of it that just might catch on. Are you with Miss D?

 
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