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December 24th, 2013 WW Staff | Food Reviews & Stories
 

The Best Thing I Ate This Year

WW food writers pick their favorite dishes of 2013.

dish_best_4008FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: SEN YAI, OX, LELA’S BISTRO - IMAGES: Sen Yai, Lela’s Bistro - Liz Devine, Ox - Leah Nash

Often the best thing is what surprises you. On a cold day in October—in a drizzling, windswept food-cart parking lot with a trash-can-style campfire and an immobile school bus that serves as a dining hall—I ordered the inzimino from Burrasca. It arrived looking like a Louisiana duck circa 2010, or a three-day preparation of seaweed on the Oregon Coast: an inky, unparseable mess of brackish green. But it was heaven in a to-go box, a warm, herbal, wine-soaked spinach dish studded with squid. The intensely rich Tuscan peasant stew tastes like nothing else in town—not even the other rendition of the dish across the river—blanketing the palate with startling complexity. I buy it regularly in a parking lot, but I’d be just as stoked if I got it at Ava Gene’s.
MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


I’m too cheap to eat out much. My co-workers know this: They’ve stopped asking if I want takeout at lunch, well aware that I’ll instead be nuking my beans and rice. So when I do go out, I want something either extravagantly delicious or supremely comforting. For the former, that means mussels at St. Jack, bathing in a garlicky vermouth sauce that has just enough creme fraiche to make it rich but not so much that it’s heavy. The dish comes with a hunk of crusty baguette, and I always ask for more. And when I just want some comfort food? Then it’s Sen Yai’s phat sii ew, a plate of thick wok-fried noodles, bits of pork and Chinese broccoli. When I had it the first time, loaded up with chili vinegar, I was exhausted and grumpy as hell. While it didn’t quite cure me, it went as far as anything could have. REBECCA JACOBSON.


If you figured one deep-fried animal skin tastes pretty much like every other deep-fried animal skin, you figured wrong. I realized this on my first bite into Sok Sab Bai’s fried chicken skins. Doused in the housemade sweet and fiery Da Sauce, this $3 appetizer from the Southeast 21st Avenue Cambodian restaurant was better than anything else I had this year. And while co-editing WW’s Restaurant Guide, I had some pretty amazing food. The chicken skins were so crunchy, so hot, so sweet, so fatty, so wonderful. It punched down my pleasure receptors, a jolt that didn’t fade until the check was paid. The skins were a one-off at the time, so I almost told you about Le Pigeon’s beef cheek Bourguignon instead. But a call to Sok Sab Bai confirms that it’s now permanently on the menu. Go and try—it’s the best $3 you’ll spend all year. MARTIN CIZMAR.


When the waiter set down my bowl of clam chowder at Ox, I started screaming and flapping my hands like Paul Rudd at a One Direction concert. And I hadn’t even tasted it yet. In a restaurant whose signature dish is a giant pile of grilled meat, the relatively restrained chowder is the dish that, to me, signifies pure decadence—meaty and savory and spicy, with smoky bone marrow and jalapeños lying atop delicate, fresh clams swimming in a buttery broth whose very dregs demand to be sopped up with the ends of Ox’s crusty bread. ADRIENNE SO.


The four bright-orange dollops of uni appeared as the umpteenth course in a $30 omakase journey at Tanuki. Chef Janis Martin won’t serve it unless she can get her paws on the best uni available—the stuff flown in from Japan. At this point, the room (and the tentacle porn playing on a flat screen above the bar) was blurry, but the explosion of briny, creamy, unadorned sea urchin snapped my palate back to attention. The uni itself was stellar, yet what it truly represents is a luminous moment in the most delicious, drunken and outrageous four hours I spent anywhere in 2013. ANDREA DAMEWOOD.


When Levant opened on East Burnside Street in March, it wowed jaded restaurant regulars with a novel menu melding Middle Eastern, European and local flavors. The one dish that captured my fancy was chef and owner Scott Snyder’s simple rendition of deep-fried green almonds. More precisely described as almond fruits, these fleeting treats are harvested in the short span just before the familiar kernel and shell inside have developed to nutlike maturity. Few farmers even bother. Resembling oversized olives in color and texture, their taste is pleasantly tart. Fresh from Levant’s fryer with just a sprinkle of salt and chili flake, the taste memory already has me looking ahead to next spring. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.


Evoe has been one of my favorite Portland restaurants since it opened in 2008—I reviewed it for WW back then—and I’m so excited that Evoe chef Kevin Gibson recently opened Davenport, though I haven’t been lucky enough to visit his new restaurant yet. I’ve never had anything at Evoe that I didn’t absolutely love. When I was going through a rough spell last year, it was one of my favorite spots to dine  alone for a late, long lunch. Evoe’s Euro vibe invites that. Early in the year I had a beet salad at Evoe that I’ve re-created in various ways at home ever since. It was tossed with a light, tart, creamy vinaigrette, pistachios, some fresh herbs and I’m honestly not sure what else. Memory fades but the feeling does not. Every bite made me feel loved. Beet fucking salad. Usually it’s the simple things. LIZ CRAIN.


Full disclosure: Lela’s Bistro, the Vietnamese lunch spot housed in a converted Victorian house on Northwest 23rd Avenue, is around the corner from WW’s office. As someone who’d eat nothing but Famous Stars were there a Carl’s Jr. nearby, my favorite dishes tend to be those closest to my mouth. That said, the fact that Lela’s pork belly banh mi sandwich is within biting distance from where I spend five days of the week is just about the most blessed fringe benefit of this job: The titular chunks of fatty meat hit a succulent sweet spot between chewy and crispy, spiced flavorfully and stuffed in a warm, thick baguette. Perhaps one of you food dorks out there is scoffing, but if you know a better sandwich, please deliver it to my desk, because that’s the only way I’ll bother with it. MATTHEW SINGER. 

 
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