Postcard From Tom: Portland, Ore.
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.
An exciting trend in Portland, Ore., is the rise of relatively small chef-owned neighborhood restaurants. Among the evidence I gathered earlier this year:
E PIGEON (738 E. Burnside St., 503-546-8796)G
abriel Rucker likes to cook the kind of food he thinks his kitchen peers might enjoy when they're away from their own stoves. But pig trotters, lamb's tongue and, yes, pigeon turn out to be pretty big draws for the rest of us, too, judging from the crowds that frequent this unpretentious storefront. The self-taught 20-something chef (he's the guy with the bird tattoos on his arm) makes "everything but the bread" -- including the fennel jam with the roast lamb shoulder and the ketchup for his hamburgers -- right here, in a tiny open kitchen. We applaud his priorities: The plates are mismatched, but the butter is pedigreed Plugra, sprinkled with sea salt. Entrees $18-$24.S
MPATICA DINING HALL (828 SE Ash St., 503-235-1600)Th
e basement of a former rock venue showcases one of the best Sunday brunches in the city, brought to us by three young guys who own a local catering company and a butcher shop. (The latter explains the excellent breakfast meats on the menu.) Exemplary fried chicken and waffles, biscuits with gravy, and a moist olive oil cake treated to tart orange marmalade all support the restaurant's Italian name: Simpatica is indeed very "nice." Brunch dishes $9-$11.23
OYT RESTAURANT & BAR (529 NW 23rd Ave., 503-445-7400)One
of the most delicious success stories on the food scene is how, in a matter of days, the owner of a failing Italian trattoria turned it into an SRO dining destination. Part of the credit goes to Chris Israel and his Mediterranean-leaning menu; the veteran chef's spinachricotta dumplings, spice-kissed grilled chicken with couscous and shellfish stew help keep diners coming back for more. But the airy two-story interior looks great, too, warmed up as it now is with olive-colored walls, ficus trees, cool tunes -- and plenty of eye candy. Entrees $16-$30.