I EAT OUT a lot. I do it on the Merc's credit and good graces, trying all manner of new (and a few old) restaurants in this city, which we can all agree is one of a few places setting the culinary tone for the entire nation. What I'm saying is: My life does not suck—the fact that I've gained 10 pounds since February does.
The downside to this gig is this: I don't often get to return to my favorite restaurants, so when I'm eating out on my own time and dime, I choose carefully. Here are a few of the places I reviewed in 2014 that I've returned to with my hunger, cravings, and out-of-town guests I wanted to impress.
921 SW Oak
What I said: "I don't know [chef/owner Kristen D. Murray], but because of the atmosphere she's crafted—along with some darn fine midday fare and inventive desserts—I think I like her" ["Runaway Yummy," Last Supper, March 19].
Why I go back: I had a childhood friend swinging into town from New York City who has worked for the likes of Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune and Momofuku Ko. Maurice, a "pastry luncheonette," with its charming wine list and beautiful plates, was just the place I wanted to show her. A savory scone, a glass of rosé, and a gravlax plate were perfect for catching up. I'm not alone with the mad love here: Maurice was also named one of Bon Appétit magazine's top 10 new restaurants in the country this year.
SE 33rd & Hawthorne
What I said: "Each bowl is topped with slow-cooked shredded pork shoulder that's better than 90 percent of the carnitas in town... No matter what winds up in your shallow soup spoon, it's going to be a delectable mouthful" ["Slurp City," Last Supper, Nov 5].
Why I go back: The answer is simple: I'm nuts for Asian soups, and until someone bests the bowls of ramen coming out of this cart, I'll be by as often as possible for my fix. Word-of-mouth continues to grow, and they run out of handmade noodles early. Darn you all.
The People's Pig
3217 N Williams
What I said: "The People's Pig is... putting out ass-whupping meals that top out at $12. Served on metal plates with paper, this is barbecue stripped of pretension, riding just on its smoky flavors. This is the real business" ["Little Den of BBQ," Last Supper, Oct 15].
Why I go back: This is the real business! Plus, I bike home on N Williams, and that BBQ-pit smell is like some Pied Piper shit. A recent visit offered a smoked lamb sandwich with arugula and a yogurt sauce. It was amazing and I don't know why there aren't lines out the door.
Coopers Hall Winery and Taproom
404 SE 6th
What I said: "Coopers Hall is the next tipple forward in an evolution toward accessible oenophilia.... It's unpretentious—it's got 44 wines, beers, and ciders, but they're all on tap. No cork snorting here" ["You're Gonna Want to Tap That," Last Supper, July 30].
Why I go back: Coopers Hall, a large hangar of a warehouse, is gorgeously redone with plenty of seating, and offers the ability to hear your dinnermate. I've got a girlfriend who is getting way into wine—this sleek, friendly place was just the ticket for her birthday.
3570 SE Division
What I said: "Atlas Pizza has horking huge slices that are eminently foldable" ["Pie Chart," Last Supper, Sept 10].
Why I go back: Most of the time when I eat pizza, I want good flavors and ingredients, and I want it to be in mass quantities for pretty cheap. Atlas' New York-style slices nail it, PLUS they have great pesto garlic knots. It's all the shitty pizza I ate as a kid, adjusted for a grownup.
I'LL BE BACK
Be it money, time, or location, I haven't been back to these three spots (although I want to!) since I praised them in the press.
6 SE 28th
What I said: "While PaaDee is billed as Thai comfort food, its hidden jewel, Lang Baan, is pushing far outside of those cozy confines and into the exciting realms of refined and challenging plates. Like a salmon ceviche with Thai eggplant and orange, Lang Baan is the kind of thing Portland didn't know it needed until it was served to us, perfectly spiced" ["Jewels from Siam," Last Supper, June 11].
Why I want to go back: This was one of the most exciting meals I had this year. Portland Monthly agreed, naming it top restaurant of 2014. A quick check of reservations shows that this tiny Thai pop-up, hidden behind a bookshelf and open just Thursday through Saturday, is booked a month out. It's exactly where I'll be celebrating the next bit of happy news I get.
720 SE Grand
What I said: "The $25-per-person 'zakuski experience' is the kind of meal that I'm most likely to get emotional about.... You're encouraged to drink copious amounts of vodka by servers who genuinely seem to want you to have a jolly feast while you're there" ["Russian Revolution," Last Supper, July 16].
Why I want to go back: Oily fish. Horseradish-infused vodka. Herring under a fur coat. I've got a date set for ASAP with a few folks.
3735 SE Hawthorne
What I said: "Judging from the two-hour dining experience [chef Ryan] Roadhouse is serving up, the [former Evoe] space will be well succeeded. The meal was a gorgeous succession of simply prepared dishes made with produce grown in Portland by Phantom Rabbit Farm.... (For $85 a head without drinks or tip, Nodoguro has to be exquisite; luckily, it is)" ["A Culinary Love Letter to Haruki Murakami," Last Supper, Aug 27].
Why I want to go back: This was an impeccable, curated dinner experience, and it's one that Roadhouse changes monthly based on inspired themes. I'll be back—it's just not often I, or anyone else I eat with, can afford an $85 meal, plus drinks and tip. But, dang, it's good.