After the double economic downturn of the past two years, local eaters turned out once again to fill Portland dining rooms. This year, longtime local chefs opened a slew of new concept restaurants, while two new eastside restaurant rows--on Southeast Division Street and North Mississippi Avenue--began to plant neighborhood roots. Here's a taste of the scraps from a whole year's worth of good eating.
1. Pho Sure. Last New Year's, we were craving one thing: comfort food. OK, and exotic flavors. Luckily, several new Vietnamese and Thai restaurants opened in town this year. Boxes full of curries and pho shoved chop suey off our refrigerator shelves, making the cilantro and nam pla-spiked heat of Southeast Asian food our favorite takeout.
2. Storming the Bakery Gates. Svelte barbarians demanded Paley's Place Kobe beef burgers sans buns, and the Heathman outfitted its computer ordering system with an "Atkins" button. The low-carb revolution infected nearly everyone with a meat fever the likes of a 28 Days Later plague. Now, as the menace of MAD COW DISEASE lets out a mighty moo in Portland's very own supermarket checkout lines, will protein mania finally abate? Who knows? Bite Club resisted the slimming anyway, in preparation for the big-booty backlash that's bound to come around by 2007. We'd rather be fat and happy than skinny and carb-deprived.
3. East Side, Represent. This year saw the continued success of the small operations rooted on Portland's Street of (Food) Dreams, East 28th Avenue. But when David Machado, the chef-owner of Lauro, started tossing chewy preserved lemons into a homey mélange of chicken and couscous--across the street from our favorite sugar shack, Pix Patisserie--Bite Club knew Southeast Division Street could be our next eastside home away from home.
4. Feeding Tube. Food-related products and placement continued to turn chefs into rock stars as Rocco DiSpirito flamed on in NBC's kitchen reality show, The Restaurant. (Although many thought top billing should have gone to Amex and Coors). Posts debating the show's merit clogged foodie website egullet.com's message boards as chow hounds--including kitchen gangster Anthony Bourdain and members of The Restaurant's own cast--weighed in on the power of prime-time food.
5. I Have a Kreme. On par with the occasion of the first plantings of pinot noir clones in the Willamette Valley, Oregon reached another cultural milestone when its first Krispy Kreme franchise opened July 29. Cars ringed the Southeast 82nd Avenue store as junkies waited for fresh-from-the-assembly-line sugar crack.
6. Dogged Art. Food as art doesn't mean just plate presentation. In a brutal act of olfactory moxie, artist William Pope.L nailed more than 100 hot dogs to a map of the United States for his August PICA installation, eRacism. The exhibit even earned national kudos from the International Art Critics Association.
7. Noble Laureate. Restaurant fundamentalists and teetotalers grumbled in darkened corner booths while winos and mac-'n'-cheese fanatics clinked glasses when WW declared the comfortably chic wine baric wine bar Noble Rot its Restaurant of the Year.
8. Green Team. Nationally, organic produce emerged as one of this year's must-have menu accessories--something Stumptown chefs have known forever. As just one local example of the local food movement, there was August's series of successful Plate+Pitchfork Farm Dinners, which served al fresco dinners to city slickers, catered by Portland chefs at three local farms.
9. New Plates. With a glut of restaurant openings, fall brought the return of big bills, slick decor, big concepts and French victuals. Portlanders turned out to eat in the sleek, industrial dining rooms of Carlyle, the clever Park Kitchen, and a trio of French-inspired gems: Carafe, Bistro Casanis and Hurley's.
10. Mississippi Stewing. But Portland diners don't have to give up on eclectic, homegrown fare. From Mint all the way up to Equinox, North Mississippi Avenue is verging on its own seismic boom. When three restaurants on the same block are shooting for spring openings--including the saucily named Gravy--something big is, well, stewing.