Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Cloudy

57°F

Portland

Cloudy

Humidity: 62%

Wind: 9 mph

  • 16 Apr 2014

    Few Showers 59°F 50°F

  • 17 Apr 2014

    Rain 55°F 42°F


A year of feasts, flops

Though some favorites failed, new eateries step in to take their place in 2014


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kurt Heileman works the bar at Davenport on East Burnside. Tribune food writer Anne Marie DiStefano eagerly awaits her opportunity to visit Davenport, among other destinations in 2014.Saint Cupcake, I think I’ll miss you most of all.

The end of 2013 also was the end for the two Saint Cupcake shops. The red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting was a long-time favorite of mine, but all the cupcakes were distinguished by a uniquely delicate, springy texture that other cupcakeries struggle to achieve.

This was just one of the year’s demonstrations of the volatility of the restaurant industry. A few promising spots were especially short-lived: Market, Trigger, Township and Range, Riffle.

Kingdom of Roosevelt was in business for mere months, but I think it made its point. Everyone got to weigh in on pickled elk tongue, deer blood pancakes, and pigeon brains. Then, once it had been thoroughly reviewed, it disappeared into the forest.

A brace of top restaurants lost their chefs this year, which can cause an identity crisis for a business. Opening chef Jason Barwikowski left the Woodsman Tavern. Chris DiMinno left Clyde Common after five years in the kitchen. And Raven & Rose is losing David Padberg, who left Park Kitchen not so long ago — and who is not to be confused with a fictional, evil Raven & Rose chef portrayed in a recent episode of “Grimm.” I thought it was brave and cool for the restaurant owners to allow their business to be associated with a very gruesome series of events.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Game hen from LevantBeaker & Flask, once the cutting edge of cocktail culture, faded away this year. It will become Taqueria Nueve, a rebirth for a favorite upscale Mexican place that reigned on Northeast 28th Avenue for many years, before closing in 2008. Coincidentally, Beaker & Flask’s owner, Kevin Ludwig, landed at a place called La Taq.

And yes, the cocktails are tasty and elaborate at La Taq, a spinoff of Podnah’s Pit Barbecue, and one of a number of casual spots that I really enjoyed this year. Others included Grassa, with its simple formula of high-quality pasta dishes, and Teote, serving excellent platters of plantains, meat, beans and the Venezuelan corn cakes called arepas.

Combining restaurants, markets

Along with Venezuelan food, other underrepresented national cuisines that came on the scene this year were Polish (Bar Dobre), Cambodian (Sok Sob Bai), Portuguese (Fado), and coming soon, Kachka, a Russian restaurant that is slated for a spot on Southeast Grand Avenue near the Morrison Bridge. And there was Levant, representing a whole sunny swath of the globe, which was one of the best new restaurants of the year. Go for the juxtaposition of elemental flavors like sardines and hearth-roasted lamb, served alongside refined sauces and condiments and exotic cocktails.

Italian food has been the default mode for Portland dining since time immemorial. Ava Gene’s took it to a new level, becoming the most celebrated restaurant of the year, especially in the national press. Surrounded by brass, marble and lace, diners partake of a stately procession of carefully chosen vegetables, pastas and meats, for a meal that can last many hours.

I had several other extended, submersive dinners that I enjoyed as much or more, at Din Din Supper Club, Sauvage, Genoa and Boxer Sushi. Genoa continues to impress with plates that are as beautiful as they are delicious, while Din Din is the most playful, orchestrating themed prix-fixe meals inspired by ideas as diverse as voodoo, the work of a local photographer, or the concept of “tiny.”

A notable trend of 2013 was the combined restaurant and market. Old Salt Marketplace includes a butcher shop and even hosts its own farmers market. Tarad offers Thai food and groceries, while Trifecta Tavern, Oso Marketplace, Roman Candle, and Broder Nord all combine eating in and marketing in various permutations. There also will be a large Southeast Asian market attached to the second location of Bollywood Theater when it opens on Southeast Division — sometime soon. Division Street continues to grow, along with the West End, with highlights including Sen Yai in Southeast and Tasty n Alder downtown. And I’d be remiss not to mention the Multnomah Whiskey Library, where a line began to form some time this fall that people are still waiting in. Once the furor dies down a little, I’ll be there.

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Bacon wrapped octopus at Sauvage.The two other new places that I’m most looking forward to are Davenport and Maurice.

Davenport is the new outlet for Kevin Gibson, who was the original chef at Castagna, where he served finely tuned dishes that showcased individual ingredients, a cooking style that’s much more widespread now than it was then. Then he spent four years behind the counter at Evoe, inside Pastaworks. Now he’s finally bringing his brainy, elegant execution to a place of his own. The current menu features understated dishes such as scallops with fennel, roasted beets, and cauliflower soup and more homey-sounding items, including Hungarian goulash and cabbage rolls.

Maurice is the new home base for pasty chef Kristen Murray (formerly of Paley’s Place and Fenouil). Her new place is shaping up to be one exquisite and endless tea party. There are savories such as fancy little meat pies, oysters on the half shell, and “tarragon and grapefruit kissed gravlax,” and complicated and alluring sweets: black pepper cheesecake with a cookie crust, pastry layered with rhubarb and celery leaf, and fig tarte tatin with blue cheese gelato and duck fat puff pastry.

That’s enough to take my mind off cupcakes, at least for a while.