Noodles didn't put Vitaly Paley on the map. His 20-year-old Northwest 21st Avenue bistro was one of the fathers of the city's current foodscape, and his kitchen tree has sprouted a number of other talented chefs around town.
But those noodles have given Paley a passport back to his Ukrainian childhood. The farm-to-table staples of the menu are now augmented with a list of unfamiliar stews and dumplings that arrive in steaming pots or in a pile of delicate dough, transforming Paley's Place into one of the less-heralded beachheads of Portland's Soviet invasion. Lazy cheese dumplings burst with a fresh white cheese called tvorog, while eggplant pelmeni float amid summer squash pickled into a citrus tang.
The menu swims with tiny grace notes—like the whole fig, split in two and lightly grilled, that accents the pork tenderloin—so it's best to pick and choose from the approximately half-price smaller portions with costs in the mid-teens, to better sample the miniaturist's touches. The restaurant encourages that idea with a menu that detours into categories like "more vegetables," which turns out to be a walking tour of different preparations of fresh corn.
For a restaurant steeped in Continental tradition, there's a playfulness here that borders on the giddy. Where else will you find a sorbet sampler that includes both toasted-marshmallow ice cream and an actual toasted marshmallow? Only in a place Paley invents.
Pro tip: Select a plate off the veggie list ($8-$13 an item), then get the lazy cheese dumplings ($19). Pair your meal with a barrel-aged Paley's Manhattan ($12), perfectly balanced between Buffalo Trace and bitters. Note that while the Wagyu steak ($21-$42) remains the restaurant's most popular dish, a noodle soup called lapsha ($25) is catching on.