Lucy's Table
704 NW 21st

No matter how packed, Lucy's Table never fails to exude cool, soothing elegance. It's a miraculous oasis, embedded on NW 21st, in a thicket of greasy frat brains that ooze forth from places like The Gypsy and turn that accursed street into a living hell after the sun goes down.

Recently, Lucy's has changed hands. Ready for a break from the grueling restaurant business, original owners Peter and Kelly Kost sold the business to one-time Heathman manager Pierre Zriek and, more importantly, head chef Mike Conklin and his wife Kaye. Conklin's artful meat and seafood concoctions are consistently masterful, and his continued presence at the helm seems to have set an example for the other employees as well--not one member of the wait staff or kitchen crew is leaving under the new ownership. The restaurant's meticulous balance of consummate service, flickering ambiance, and unrivaled cuisine is thus preserved.

Conklin and Co. promise an ever-evolving menu highlighted by a slight increase in seafood dishes and lighter fare, and while that sounds great, I feel compelled to make a public plea: Do what you need to do, but do NOT mess with the vegetarian meatloaf. Made from tofu, wild mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and homemade ketchup, with a creamy dollop of mashed potatoes on the side, it's the best loaf of any kind in the entire city, meat or veggie. And at a non-threatening $14, it's a pretty damn good deal for a fancy restaurant.

'Course if it's flesh you're hankering for, you've still come to the right place. Lucy's offers a variety of perfectly prepared meats with little creative flourishes that innovate but don't distract. The braised rabbit comes simmering in a stew of Dijon broth, green olives, and applewood bacon, resting gently on a bed of crispy polenta that melts in your mouth like butter. The tender grilled halibut belongs in the Portland Art Museum, framed by mashed potatoes, with delicious asparagus lines cutting through the work with abstract expressionist glee. If you're looking to get in touch with your savage self, hit up the wild boar ravioli, paired with Bing cherries and chevre, and coated with boar braising sauce.

Choose from a plethora of dazzling starters to kick your meal off. The dangerously rich clam cakes with lemon aioli are a meal in themselves; unstapled stomachs should instead hit up the grilled romaine hearts, a quirky salad experience with a subtle Caesar dressing that doesn't burn your face off with garlic. Or check the roasted beet salad, with pear, red onion, feta, and a delicate cider vinaigrette. Pair it all with a bottle from Lucy's impressive wine cellar or a martini from the full bar, and don't forget the evening's other bookend: Desserts include a creamy lemon tart in a sugary, crunchy shell, and a flourless chocolate cake, which connoisseurs know is the only way to eat chocolate cake.

In a town built on brewpubs, happy hours, and strip clubs, it's easy to deprive yourself of a fine dining experience. Take this opportunity to spend a little cash and do it right. When all is said and done, you'll forget about the money you spent, but you won't forget Lucy's Table.