A local food-history lesson: Prodigal son Cory Schreiber grew up shucking oysters on the Oregon Coast and working for his family's seafood empire at Dan & Louis Oyster Bar. He honed his cooking chops out in the world but came home 11 years ago to celebrate his culinary patrimony. He couldn't have timed it better.
Just a few years earlier, Bruce Carey, Chris Israel and Monique Siu's big-city restaurant Zefiro had redefined good food in Portland with the fresh-local-seasonal mantra. By 1994, as reservations at Northwest 21st Avenue and Glisan Street became harder to get, diners jumped at the chance to worship a few blocks down the street.
Wildwood, named for the trail in Forest Park, was an instant success. Schreiber earned a James Beard award in 1998 and published a cookbook a few years later. He championed artisanal producers and farmers markets, and, along with other Portland chefs such as Greg Higgins and Vitaly Paley, helped make sustainable a household word.
I'd always thought the food at Wildwood was very good, and just a few years ago wrote that it proves "the Northwest kicks culinary ass." But the word on the street (the thoroughfare of the notoriously incestuous local food community) was that Schreiber and crew were coasting on past glories. Nothing hurts a restaurant more than being labeled "tired," so I slipped into the dining room to see for myself.
My first bite laid the rumors aside. While sardines have run off the Oregon Coast for millennia, they've only just recently begun to appear on local menus. On a recent visit, Wildwood served them up fried and crispy, atop a sharp-flavored salad of arugula and cress with a tangy blood-orange compote and lemon aioli to balance the oily, delicious little fish ($10). Seared scallops ($12) are nothing new, but the apple-parsnip purée underneath was a revelation. I was still trying to decide if I really liked it when I realized I was on the verge of picking up the plate to lick off the last dribble.
And so it went. Beets came pickled, marinated, and paired with creamy mascarpone or tangy buttermilk bleu cheese on different evenings ($9.50). All good enough to convert the most ardent beet nonbeliever.
A venison tenderloin, cooked perfectly in a tandoori oven, came with sour cherry-braised red cabbage, späetzle flavored with caraway seeds, and glazed chestnuts ($28), while a thick Carlton pork chop featured sides of the incredible borlotti beans from Ayers Creek Farm gratinée with chard ($24).
My only disappointment was the hand-cut fries served with Wildwood's great bar burger (11.50), a little soft and not in the same class as the burger.
Still, if this is coasting, Wildwood-style, I'm ready to slide every night.
1221 NW 21st Ave., 248-9663. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, dinner Sunday.