CHESA Aaron Lee

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Eat & Drink Fall 2016

IT CAN BE tough to stay ahead of all the best new spots to eat in Portland. Here's a rundown of some of our recent favorites.

Chesa
2218 NE Broadway

Chesa's fantastic sherry-tinged cocktails and modern Catalonian dishes mostly hold up to expectations for Chef/owner Jose Chesa of Ataula, especially on this stretch of NE Broadway where brewpubs and taco joints were the former benchmark of high concept.

The plates are small, the prices are high—but the level of craftsmanship and detail make it a worthy treasure hunt among the menu's nearly two dozen tapas, nibbles, and snacks. The $10, two-bite bocata—a chistorra sausage on an impossibly fluffy bun with teriyaki mayo, date-sherry ketchup, and Spanish mahón cheese—may be the world’s most expensive tiny hot dog. But it was a seriously umami-filled bite: all smoke and acid and fat.

Order almost at will: Fill your fork with a slice from the tower of sliced, chilled sherry-marinated foie gras ($11), pop a salt cod beignet ($9) still hot from the fryer into your mouth, wonder how the deep-fried tempura pig ears ($13) can be so tender and yet still stand up to its bed of bitter lettuces and a strong vinaigrette.

Get the corteza ($7)—four crispy pork rinds lined up for the eating, topped with escabeche mussels and a chipotle mayo—which is a bastard baby of snack food and old-world tradition. A plate ($28) of Iberico charcuterie and strong cheese in generous portions is a wise investment for the table.

Chesa has one of the most impressive cocktail lists I've seen in months: almost 20 options amassed on one list. Vermouth and sherry heavy, these are the cocktails my bitter palate so desperately craves.

The Ponche en Porron ($25) is guaranteed to turn your table into its own convivial party: The apparatus it's served in, a porron, resembles a bong with a long tapered spout where the carb would go. Designed to serve two to three people, this surprisingly delicious blend of rum, sherry, black tea, cava, bitters, nutmeg, and other liqueurs is poured into the bottom. It’s a conversation piece and a way to make the stodgy table next to you jealous.

It's appropriate to drink your dessert here: An $11 blend of genever, orange curaçao, chartreuse, milk, and drinking chocolate from 180 next door, served hot with a salted coconut whip is a melted Tobler chocolate "orange" booze delight in a tea cup. But the desserts from pastry chef Layla Shademan are worth lingering over, particularly an incredible twist on a crème brûlée ($8) with Catalana foam, a candied topper, and caramel ice cream on the side.

With the raging success of Ataula, Chesa could have easily become the lesser overflow space for the high demand. But it's clear that this Northeast location is really more of an extension of José Chesa's vision: a newer, larger place to experiment. Maybe you should get there now, to catch the next creative turn. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Matt Wong

Hat Yai
1605 NE Killingsworth

In many ways, Hat Yai—named after the town in Southern Thailand famous for its deep-fried birds—channels the best of owner Earl Ninsom's other two restaurants. The depth of flavor in almost every dish recalls the haute prix fixe of Langbaan (which is forever booked up), but the cost and casual atmosphere are a lot like PaaDee.

Go with a few friends and share a variety, because almost everything on the menu is solid. The chicken is the star: Mary's free-range chickens are lightly breaded in rice flour and crisped to perfection, permeated with a sweet spiciness that's made even better with a good pour of the chili sauce served on the side. It's amply topped with fried shallots, and it's worth getting every time.

For the best deal, get it as part of the curry and roti set ($13). A large steel tray arrives with a fat thigh and drumstick, a bowl of curry, and a single roti—a griddle-fried flatbread that originated in India and spread across Southern Asia like glutinous wildfire. Here the roti is less delicate and doughier than better versions in town, but it's tasty nonetheless. The curry is a rich, creamy blend that on one visit actually seemed to stretch like melted cheese when we dipped our roti in it. It's done like in Malaysia, right across the border from Hat Yai: slightly sweet, with a subtle fire on the backend.

Spice fans are covered: The Southern Thai ground pork ($12) comes coated in turmeric and chilies, with a heady kick of kaffir and lemongrass. It's a true tingler that mercifully comes with sticky rice on the side for tongue relief. Also, go easy when mixing in the Thai peppers served with the khao yum rice salad—a complex blend of shrimp powder, toasted coconut, and herbs ($9)—or you'll hear about it from your stomach later. Add a few splashes of hot sauce to elevate the wonderful muu hong ($13), a faithful re-creation of a Thai street food favorite of braised pork belly and shoulder over rice with a fried egg.

Portland is positively awash in excellent fried chicken and Thai food—and even in fried Thai chicken. Despite this, Hat Yai is already establishing itself near the top of that crowded class. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Thomas Teal

Pastrami Zombie
5429 NE 42nd Ave

Pastrami Zombie's signature sandwich is deceptively simple: a huge stack of beef, a couple slices of Swiss, dressing, a forest of coleslaw, and two fairly thin slices of Grand Central rye. But that's all owner and mastermind Melissa McMillan needs to spin a sandwich that joins the upper ranks in a city that perfected the art of stuff between bread.

Biting into the deeply unctuous and smoky brisket pastrami—cured for four days before smoking and steaming—with the tart coleslaw and dressing dripping over your trembling pinkies is to know what those Carl's Jr. ads were talking about when they said, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face."

The other offerings are also worth a spin, especially the burger with that pastrami added on top ($12). It's another drippy wonder, this time with a griddled patty and oodles of American cheese.

The tuna sammich ($10), with albacore poached in the cart plus avocado and arugula, is a more subtle beast, and is perfect to share along with one of the more intense sandwiches at lunch. McMillan's specials also let her take a walk with her ingredient list, like with a recent house-brined and smoked pork loin, chopped bacon, cheddar, lettuce, and mayo on sourdough with just a smackling of sweetness from a housemade plum jam. Just beware: After repeated visits, Pastrami Zombie will take over your brain. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Fillmore Trattoria
1937 NW 23rd Pl

Everything about Fillmore Trattoria is decidedly Old Portland: the menu isn't pretentious; the electric guitars on the wall were hung by the ponytailed chef/owner; and the glass of decent Italian red is just $7. Except this is a San Francisco import.

Fillmore is warm, bustling, and here to feed you Italian-American calamari and veal. This won't earn it any awards or the hearts of the forward-thinking, but since it opened in late April, the restaurant has gained a loyal following to the point that you'll need a reservation on the weekends, or hope for a spot at the bar.

The menu's broken down into snacks, appetizers and salads, pasta, and entrées. It's worth snagging an item from each section for a table of two—the prices are low enough to leave full and not praying for payday (see the 10-ounce New York steak for $19).

There's a stuffed artichoke ($12.50), a massive bread-crumbed veg brimming with prosciutto, garlic, and herbs, with a dish on the side for spent leaves. The complimentary bruschetta are a delight in heirloom tomato season—just diced red fruit, salt, and good olive oil on crunchy bread.

Three fried goat cheese balls over caramelized onion with honey ($4.50) are everything they advertise—a sweet blend of creamy but not too funky cheese with deep brown onions. The zucchini salad ($11), described as a carpaccio of sorts, could anchor any local, veggie-forward menu. Raw zucchini isn't normally my bag, but the knife work renders it into a small julienne that's laden with pecorino cheese and toasted almonds.

Also great was the red snapper in spicy tomato sauce ($18.75), medallions of seared fish in a just-right peppery red lake that's savory enough to spoon up on its own. On each visit our service was friendly, and Krietzman himself came out to talk vermouth at the end of one meal, blending a sweet and a dry Spanish vermouth that he said is his favorite on the rocks with a lemon twist. Next time we showed up, it was on the cocktail menu for $7.50. A dry Piedmontese rosé that's always given a generous pour went from $6.50 to $7 over our visits—and this wasn't happy hour.

As restaurants in Portland get more and more like San Francisco—usually a code for overwrought, foamy, and ever out of reach for the masses—here's to a few California spots like Fillmore. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Daniel G. Cole

Golden Triangle Asian Fusion
NE 60th & Glisan

In a city that seems to have one pad thai cart for every 2.3 residents, this one stands out.

Sarah Leam, 28, who opened the cart with her mother, Linda Singharaj, about three months ago, is there daily: Cooking is the family trade, after all. Leam says she learned to cook from her grandmother, and her uncle is the owner of longtime SE Division spot Thai Fresh.

Take the Laotian baked eggs: Steeped in sweet soy, oyster, and fish sauce and then baked at a low temperature for six hours, they're subtle and savory, and not something I've seen on a menu before. Leam says they're often served in temples, and are meant to be a snack. She says she'll cook them with a day's advance notice—she pulled them from her everyday menu because she insists on cooking them fresh each morning to keep their flavor, and couldn't bear throwing away leftovers daily.

Asian fusion can be a noxious idea, but Golden Triangle comes by it honestly. Leam grew up in Portland, but is of Laotian heritage, so she adds Cambodian favorites her husband, Sitha, likes, while throwing in Vietnamese dishes just because she loves the food so much.

Hopefully, eaters will embrace items like the prahok, a distinctively funky fermented fish sauce dip with coconut milk, fresh tamarind, and a definite chili-based kick. This dish is effervescent and outside any American flavor profile. It’s great with steak ($10), served with rice and fresh veggies. It’s safe to say this is the only cart in town making prahok (although Cambodian restaurant Mekong Bistro also serves it).

Khao piek, a Laotian chicken noodle soup ($7), features a rich garlic broth and supple rice noodles made in the cart every day—it’s another entry into the canon of amazing Asian soups on NE Sandy. Stuffed angel wings ($7) are behemoths—deboned wings packed full of veggies, taro, and chicken before being deep-fried and served with a side of sweet and sour sauce. They make me wonder how eggrolls, wrapped in their pedestrian wonton skins, ever got popular. Like most of Golden Triangle’s dishes, it’s a big-ass portion.

Leam says her most popular dish is the sweet wings ($9), tossed in sweet soy and fish sauce, with rice and veggies. They're solid, but we were far more taken by the nam kao. I’ve shared my obsession with this Laotian salad before. It’s made up of fresh rice balls with salty pork which are fried and cracked over crispy lettuce. It’s lightly spicy, slightly sweet, and super citrusy with lime, while arriving with ample cilantro and other fresh herbs. I’m fairly certain I could eat it every day and never grow tired of it.

Like many carts, one flaw is that sometimes dishes sell out, or don't make the menu prep that day. It took a couple of visits to get the prahok, and if you're heading there for a specific dish, call ahead to make sure it's on hand. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Aaron Lee

SuperBite
527 SW 12th

SuperBite, the new space from chef/owners Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton of the insanely popular Ox, manages to capture the culinary excitement of its parent restaurant and yet distinguish itself from the original—like The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. The Dentons have said they wanted to create a restaurant full of seemingly mismatched flavors that taste great together, with smaller plates so the bold flavors don’t overwhelm eaters, but compel them forward.

Mission accomplished. Here, the bill will be about $60 a person with drinks and tip, but it's a luxury worth indulging in. The former Grüner space is reworked with Mediterranean blue-and-white tiles, white walls, and an open cooking station, where the chefs will personally bring your dish to your table to explain what's in it. The menu's 25-plus items are divided into bites, plates, and platters, and the welcoming servers do a good job explaining how best to order.

Those bites? They are indeed super. Ranging from $3 to $11, they're clearly the driving force behind the whole concept, including the menu's highest achievements and its biggest disappointments. The “SpaghettiOs” ($7) is a bowl of butter noodles’ true purpose in life—al dente rounds coated in Irish butter, parmigiano, and fresh truffles. Its simple perfection shows the level of creative competency that went into SuperBite. It’s also a bowl I want in front of my face at 2 am.

Take time with the cocktail and wine menu. Bar manager Beau Burtnick, who has also shaken and stirred at Angel Face and Shift Drinks, plays with Fernet, brandy, mescal, and fruit oils. This is perhaps best exemplified with the bourbon- and mescal-based El Camino Royale ($13), served up over a giant cube, with smoked maple and grapefruit oil; it's a cocktail that only glances in the direction of sweetness. It's the kind of drink you order, and then so does everyone else at the table. Draft wines—including a Willamette Valley SuperBite White ($10) and a Gamay ($12) from Division Wine Company—were both batting above their price.

Move from bites to plates, where the coq au vin ($14) lives on the menu. This dish is an icon in the making, with toothsome duck hearts wrapped in bacon, while a slab of liver-slathered toast soaks up the morel-infused red wine sauce. It’s a lot of offal wrapped in the inviting presentation of a French classic.

A blackened zucchini over a yogurt-thick burrata and a cured eggplant chorizo ($14) is sublime and provides a bit of green before diving into my personal favorite: the grilled lamb T-bone ($17). The dish is a lady on the plate, but a freak in your mouth—seared rare lamb with a tangy and salty feta yogurt over deep-fried bread. With almonds and acidic green olives, it hits pretty much every spot—flavor, salt, texture, fat—in just the right way.

The Eastside has held the balance of Portland's great restaurants for at least a decade—so with its refined service, inventive cooking, and, yes, higher price point, SuperBite is just what downtown needs. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Aaron Lee

Han Oak
511 NE 24th

Chef/owner/wizard Peter Cho's space is putting out a prix-fixe dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, along with a Sunday brunch.

When Han Oak is good, it's good. I’m still dreaming about a Korean fried cauliflower, resplendent in a glaze of gochujang and tamarind. With bread and butter daikon pickles on the side, it’s one of the single most inspiring bites I’ve had this year—a bright orange crunchy shell of spice and complexity around a cruciferous vegetable that’s attained its highest possible purpose. The parade of six to nine dishes ($65, includes gratuity) is served family style, but only for your party, avoiding that sometimes awkward dance over the last biscuit at true family-style meals. (Doesn’t mean I didn’t distract my dad so that I could get the last bite of that cauliflower.)

A Korean soondae blood cake, topped with a duck-fat-fried duck egg, is a lot sexier than any intestine-based dish has a right to be. Market kimchi was so fermented it was almost effervescent: a light dance of fish sauce and pepper on the tongue. An ember smoked short rib was cut nicely with scallion and cabbage slaw, along with a fiery ssamjang sauce. I saved some to add to the koji salt baked pork belly that you roll yourself with bun-like rice paper, scallion, and celery. Dessert, a pan-fried rice cake with red bean sherbet and toasted barley powder, evoked childhood happiness, even though as a kid I never got more exotic than mixing chocolate and strawberry ice cream.

Brunch ($32) is a pretty legitimate representation of how folks in East Asia eat breakfast. The soup was a standout and nearly a meal unto itself: Two large chicken and chive dumplings with dense Korean rice cakes were submerged in a rich garlic-forward broth. The rest of the meal, arranged on a metal tray, included a competently seared salted ocean trout, a savory waffle with pork, kimchi, and ramps, and more of that great pickled banchan and kimchi. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Jason DeSomer

Pine Street Market
126 SW 2nd

Pine Street Market is coming into its own. In the months the upscale food court opened, I've learned to stop worrying and think Pine Street is pretty okay.

Recent visits have showed a more manageable bustle. I've gotten used to grabbing my silverware and water in one go before sitting down.

Pine Street Market can be expensive. It will undoubtedly be a tourist trap. But I've also seen parents of young kids bring their wriggling progeny and enjoy a dish that isn't mac 'n' cheese. I've seen downtown workers slurping some of the city's best ramen. And I've been happiest when I've gone with a few friends and made a mish-mash meal of plates that capitalizes on the best of each stall.

A few early standouts include: the peanut butter and jelly sundae at WhizBang Bar; the original frankfurter with sauerkraut at OP Wurst; the Tonkotsu Ramen at Marukin; and the green falafel pita at Shalom Y'All. And while one of the stalls, Common Law, has already called it quits, we can't wait to try its recently opened replacement – Kim Jong Smokehouse, the Korean and American barbecue baby of Han Ly Hwang of the popular Kim Jong Grillin' cart and Smokehouse Tavern's BJ Smith. ANDREA DAMEWOOD


Aaron Lee

Poke Mon
1485 SE Hawthorne

Poke Mon's name was announced before the eponymous mobile game craze launched, and like the app, it's easy to see why poke is appealing to the masses.

With a streamlined interior of white tile and blond wood, a massive rendering of their adorable puffy fish logo with air plants, and a shimmering refrigerator case stacked high with LaCroix, Poke Mon could not be rocking trendiness harder.

Poke, as served by Poke Mon's chef Colin Yoshimoto (formerly of Nodoguro and Nong's Khao Man Gai), takes fresh, sustainably sourced fish, adds a base of mixed greens or rice to make it a full meal, and fluffs it up with fancy toppings. After working through all the bowls, the standout was the spicy yuzu albacore ($10.75), combining the Pacific tuna with red onion, cucumber, jalapeño, avocado, radish, and (not so) spicy yuzu sauce.

The cubes of Hawaiian ahi ($11.75) do well with the sesame-heavy original sauce, which is actually my favorite of the sauces, and the kimchi tako ($11.75) has tender poached octopus popping with local Choi’s kimchi and that sesame-forward sauce. While the salmon was my favorite poke preparation, the garlic salmon has a lingering bitterness from the grapefruit slices and the slightly tart ponzu sauce.

At this point, the sides (each $3) are best left to hungry eaters who need a bit more to get full—the cucumber salad is decent, while the macaroni salad lacks verve, and the seaweed salad is far too sweet. There's an inexpensive sake list, and the $3 pour of Hakutsuru Junmai is surprisingly enjoyable.

Poke Mon becomes great fun once you start dreaming up your own custom bowls: In my case that's salmon with original sauce, brown rice, cucumber, nori, sweet onion, avocado, and the crazy-addictive puffed rice, bubu arare, for incredible bursts of texture and salt throughout my meal. Go forth and make your poke your own. ANDREA DAMEWOOD