The Very Finest 

Gushing About Green Papaya

Apparently, upscale Vietnamese cuisine is the latest restaurant trend, much like the return of tapas was the trend (at least in Portland) a couple of years ago. Before that I have no idea what the trend was because I was living in culturally bereft Iowa City and eating day old bread from Big Mike's Super Subs and burritos as big as my head. But I digress. So as I was saying, the new trend is upscale Vietnamese food, and Green Papaya is one of the newest upscale Vietnamese joints in Portland.

When you enter Green Papaya you'll notice the ceiling crowded with round white paper lanterns, the room bathed in a greenish glow, and smartly spaced plush booths and sleek wooden tables. The ambiance manages to convey a sense of comfort and class instead of pretension or stuffiness, and the staff are friendly and informative to match. Our server would not rest until someone ordered the curried salmon special, and after tasting the rich, fresh, expertly dressed fish, I understood why.

Every item at Green Papaya is screaming fresh. I wouldn't have been surprised if the prawns were taken from a fish tank and the sautéed green beans were right from the garden. And beyond the incredible quality, both the prawns and green beans were cooked with the subtlety and skill of an Iron Chef; I dream of making green beans like those. This freshness and subtlety are the hallmarks of Green Papaya's fabulous cuisine. Every dish comes with it's own unique sauce, and every one of them nuanced and perfect. The huge caramelized prawns are marinated in a Thai chili sauce that flavors ever so slightly, but overall allows you to focus on the incredible taste of the fish. Swimming with fat noodles and big chunks of white meat chicken, the Udon Curry manages to be rich and delicious, but not unduly sweet. And the filet mignon marinade--made of cognac, French butter, and olive oil--caused me to eat every leaf of the bed of butter lettuce, and in such a state, butter lettuce seemed like a rare delicacy. And I haven't even mentioned the meat.

Green Papaya's filet mignon has the texture of a marshmallow, served medium rare and cut into bite sized chunks. It is by far the most perfectly prepared piece of red meat I have ever eaten; you'll find yourself chewing more slowly to savor it. Paired with the keen sweetness of the sauce, the filet causes one to appreciate steak on a new level entirely. I cannot recommend it enough.

Dinner, drinks, and appetizers at Green Papaya will run you about $20 a person. However, it's worth it. Too rich for your blood? Try lunch, where the price of Papaya's famed steak drops from $16 to $9. Still too much? Try their happy hour from 4-6 pm where an order of the rich dessert-like coconut gulf prawns will run you two little dollars, but still allow you a taste of the chef's acute skill.

Oh, a final thing to mention about Green Papaya. You might notice when you sit down there are no sauces on the table. No soy or plum or hot. Don't bother asking for them, it's an insult to the chef, and soy sauce would only disrupt the sweet harmony of perfection.

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