Ava Gene's: Restaurant Guide 2014

3377 SE Division St., 971-229-0571, avagenes.com

[ITALIAN NOUVEAU] Duane Sorenson's Italian eatery looks like a cross between a third-wave coffee shop and a mafia hangout, with red banquettes and grandmotherly lace curtains beneath exposed beams and the warm glow of dozens of hanging light tubes. Named our second-favorite new restaurant in last year's guide, its Italian-inspired dishes offer adventurous flavor combinations or Old World flavors unfamiliar to most American diners—folding pistachio and peaches in tomato and basil, or dousing melon with colatura fish sauce. Meat and seafood entrees are generous, but you're better off leaving them aside and sticking with the pane and giardini, which offer far greater variety. Start with a few pane ($6-$10), wood-charred bread cut into thick slices and divinely layered—perhaps with farmy sheep's cheese, tart currants and sweet gooseberries, or with spuma di tonno (a tuna mousse the texture of hummus), pork loin, briny sea beans and crunchy carrots and radishes. From there, move to the giardini (about $12) and order whatever seasonal vegetables strike your fancy. A recent plate of pole beans, albacore, duck egg and tarragon was wonderfully bright and summery. Take special note of any dish featuring bottarga, super-salty cured roe shaved on top like the world's classiest breadcrumbs. Order a Boulevardier ($9), which remixes the Negroni by subbing rye whiskey for gin. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Pro tip:

Though reservations suggested, you can often get lucky with a walk-in spot at either 5 or 10 pm. 

  

5-11 pm nightly. $$$.