Postcard From Tom: Portland, Ore.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Time your visit to Portland to include a Saturday morning at the farmers market, where you will find everything from raw oysters and pedigreed cheese to handmade truffles and pies starring Oregon's amazing fruits. Then move on to:

CAGE AZUL (112 NW Ninth Ave., 503-525-4422):

Sisters Claire and Shawna Archibald offer what may be the best Mexican cooking on the West Coast in their handsome, cliche-free storefront eatery. A trio of hot, cool and spicy salsas served with homemade chips gets any meal off to a rousing start, while chile-spiked goat and squash-filled tamale (just try to identify the 28 ingredients in its rich mole) offer a taste of Oaxaca in every bite. Dinner entrees $17-$22.

PALEY'S PLACE (1204 NW 21st Ave., 503-243-2403):

It feels like someone's home, with its big front porch and neighborly welcome. The menu, on the other hand, fuses the best of the Northwest's larder with French and Italian techniques. A concert pianist turned chef, Vitaly Paley adds a morel cream sauce to his veal sweetbreads, a cherry gastrique to his duck confit and Walla Walla onions to grilled steak with tomato vinaigrette--lyrical dishes all. Dinner entrees $18-$28.

WILDWOOD (1221 NW 21st Ave., 503-248-9663):

The James Beard Foundation named Cory Schreiber the best chef in his region in 1998, an honor diners continue to savor in his extraordinary skillet-roasted mussels, Dungeness crab cakes, wild salmon and local lamb, all served in generous portions with accessories that nod to the season. Adding to the pleasure of a meal here are deft service, a stylish dining room and an intelligent wine list that sings the praises of Northwestern grapes. Dinner entrees $19-$26.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company