Best Restaurants 2012

20 Spots That Defined the Year in Food

It's our annual assemblage of Portland's most exciting eateries.

With Mike Thelin, Benjamin Tepler, and Allison Jones Edited by Rachel Ritchie and Karen Brooks October 16, 2012 Published in the November 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

GET IT WHILE IT’S HOT! The grill at Ox and linguiça with flageolet beans


Buzz of the Year

 Eat This Now!

  • fried short rib terrine 
  • clam chowder
  • skirt steak
  • charcuterie plates
  • spicy braised octopus and beef tripe
  • seasonal salads
  • warm hazelnut brown butter torte with honeycomb candy

No place has generated more talk this year than Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton’s mash-up of Argentine barbecue, Portland bravado, and French technique. Ox’s meaty love story is told over red-hot embers and dramatic flames erupting from a hand-cranked grill that could pass for an elegant torture device. And holy smokes, let’s not forget the formidable wild halibut—a thick monster that arrives on the bone like a vision of Morton’s from the sea—or a clam chowder served with the epiphanic shock of smoked bone marrow shouldering some fierce jalapeños. This is the stuff of culinary lore. The intimate chef’s counter is an essential destination—and close enough to the wood fire to literally feel the heat. But in this boisterous room, happiness can be easily found at clustered tables or the teeny bar, home of the best pisco sour I can remember: smoky and tingling under a billowing white egg cloud. Lest vegetarians feel excluded, this big-hearted kitchen also gets giddy with seasonal vegetables. Denton’s baroque inclinations are best in small doses, but the spare magnificence of his skirt steak or crackling fresh sausages will leave you licking your chops. —Karen Brooks 


Lottery Winner of the Year

Eat This Now!

  • baked stuffed trout
  • cappelletti in brodo
  • spaghetti with garlic oil, hot peppers, and clams
  • luce cake

Far from the sly tweets and sold-out preview dinners that now trumpet additions to Portland’s suddenly media-savvy food scene, Luce opened on E Burnside Street last fall without a peep. To anyone. Inside, the curious found a place that could be mistaken for a hardware store stocked with the smell of Grandma’s kitchen, candlelit tables, curated groceries, and a cool little collection of Italian wines. This affordable minimalist’s paean to honest Italian cooking is led by braised chickens and rosemary-scented hanger steaks topping out at $16, alongside a carnival of $2 antipasti. For most of its short life, Luce has been, at its core, a spirit and an idea from Navarre’s John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari, two eccentrics with great taste and a love for Italy’s “old man’s” cooking. Now it’s also something they never dreamed: one of America’s most talked-about restaurants. In September, Luce landed the no. 4 slot on Bon Appétit’s “America’s Best New Restaurants” list. The surge of customers and camera clickers has overwhelmed the kitchen for now. But inspiration arrived with the chaos, and one little honest place on one very big list signals hope for America’s culinary future. —Karen Brooks


THE NEW FUSION Mapo dofu and egg custard at Smallwares


Most Original Menu

Eat This Now!

  • scallop sashimi
  • chicken lollipops and Sriracha mayo
  • egg-drop soup with Chinese sausage
  • mapo dofu and egg custard
  • black cod with smoked sherry vinegar
  • somen noodles with fried egg

It takes a certain chutzpah to reimagine the five food groups in the baby-stroller stronghold of Beaumont Village. Smallwares launched in February as a cute, sassy, creative independent, where chef-owner Johanna Ware offers not so much a menu as a rethinking of dinner, Asian cult foods, and Oregon larder all at once. In this bright enclave of red-lacquered tables, pop music, and flotsam-and-jetsam lamps, the snacking is fun and fearless—and so is the heat. Oysters arrive with a Vietnamese fever; a crazy wave of brine, fish sauce, cilantro, and lime spills from each half shell. For a night of ear-warming invigoration, this is the starting point. No two dishes are alike, and you’ll want a collection of them to share with a date or friends. An evening’s adventure can swing from a supremely elegant egg custard holding a shriek of chiles, pork crumbles, and fermented black beans—an homage to China’s iconic mapo dofu by way of Japan—to a mind-bending “cobb salad” stocked with shishito peppers, fat wads of blue cheese, crispy-crunchy six-minute eggs, and kimchi mayo. Ware learned to twist Asian conventions with madcap thinking and technical process at David Chang’s famed Momofuku Ssäm Bar in Manhattan, and it shows. She’s the real deal, offering a friendly vibe, clever cocktails, and great deals through 2 a.m. in the back room Barwares. Get a seat while you can. —Karen Brooks 

BETTER TOGETHER A ramen feast at Boke Bowl’s communal table

Boke Bowl

Most Likely to Succeed

Eat This Now!

  • ramen with pulled pork and fried chicken
  • seasonal salads
  • steamed buns (eggplant or zucchini)
  • miso butterscotch Twinkies

Boke began as the quintessential Portland food experiment: a pop-up ramen shop serving handmade everything, with democratic choices for the carnivore camp and the omnivore party. Faster than you can slurp noodle soup teeming with fried chicken or Japanese eggplant, it morphed into a lunch-centric brick-and-mortar destination that embodies the best of Portland’s restaurant scene—communal, design-savvy, and affordable. Ramen honcho Patrick Fleming trades in creativity, not textbook authority. His growing repertoire embraces an intriguing rabbit confit ramen, joyful salads, intriguing snacks (from pickled watermelon to fried pears), and a mixed bag of desserts. Steamed buns come in a blaze of flavors led by fat slabs of grilled zucchini, a hail of fried and fresh shallots, and a lip-smacking glaze of vegan miso mayo. Regulars—kids, elders, and gangs of daters—pour in, especially for Thursday night’s family-style feast of brined, smoked chicken, and a Thanksgiving-level spread of sides. —Karen Brooks  

FROZEN LUXURY An artful array of desserts at Castagna


Best Desserts

Eat This Now!

  • warm chocolate with praline ice cream, coffee, and dates; cherries, almond ice cream, birch syrup 

The almond ice cream is a pale yellow ovoid of frozen luxury cradled in a “nest” of forbidding heavy granite. Long, crisscrossed twigs of stretched meringue rest on top, each a jolt of sweet crackle and visual punning. Hiding below: a cluster of black cherries snuggling like chicks and a pool of birch syrup as thick as sap. Justin Woodward didn’t need to put a bird on his otherworldly creation—he merely created the dessert of the year, part of Castagna’s collection of high-flying finishers. Woodward earned his pastry stripes at Manhattan’s modernist food lab WD-50, and it pays off in the complex techniques and conceptual excitement largely missing from Portland’s other dessert menus. A dessert trio always concludes the kitchen’s tasting menu, the city’s most accomplished spread of avant-garde eating. But it’s also possible to just drop by for a dessert immersion from an à la carte menu of sweets and savories. —Karen Brooks

Beaker & Flask

Best Second Act

Eat This Now!

  • black tea fried chicken
  • smoked beef short rib with pistachios
  • mussels and clams with pork belly

It’s rare that a sous chef manages to one-up his former commander. But arguably, that’s what newly installed Beaker & Flask honcho Anthony Walton did when his mentor, Ben Bettinger, jumped ship in March 2012 to open Imperial with famed chef Vitaly Paley (see “Chefs of the Year,” p. 86). Inspired by fresh finds and his Midwest-Southern roots, Walton collages comfort-food classics and contemporary techniques for an impressive reinterpretation of bar food. Heavy hitters from the updated menu balance soulful flavors and visual drama. Silken tofu (made just a few yards away at Ota Tofu) artfully poses with quinoa granola, brushstrokes of sweet poppy-seed dressing, and savory smoked cherries, while albacore tuna, barely seared, reclines over charred baby octopus. Make no mistake: Beaker & Flask remains one of the city’s craft cocktail destinations. But as word of Walton’s upscale cocktail cuisine spreads, the bartenders might need to shake even faster to keep up. —Allison Jones 

GOOD EVENING, VIETNAM Beef tenderloin, chicken wings, and the Rooster Fight cocktail at Luc Lac

Luc Lac

Best Late-Night Bite

Eat (or DRINK) This Now!

  • Bo tai chanh (beef carpaccio) salad
  • beef pho
  • nem nuong (pork) banh mi
  • Smoke & Mirrors
  • Nuoc Mam Rocks

When Luc Lac splashed onto the scene last year, no one knew what to expect: Grand Marnier sliced through avocado-cardamom milkshakes, pho spilled out of the kitchen until 4 a.m., and customers happily jammed into a thermometer-busting hangar-bay of a dining room devoid of air conditioning. Thanks to black-vested brothers Adam and Alan Ho, Luc Lac is now Portland’s premier late-night dining destination, with wildly creative cocktails to rival Portland’s best eye-dropping mixologists, and piercing Vietnamese flavors courtesy of matriarch Le Ho. With street cred earned from a family tree of pho-slingers, Le Ho’s sweet broth—brimming with springy rice noodles and flavors of dark anise—is one of the best around. When the rest of the city shuts down, Luc Lac keeps rolling until 4 a.m., with a Vietnamese feast where creamy, carbonated slow-drip coffee with a kick of orange zest and plush, pickled banh mi push the epicurean envelope way past Portland’s last call. —Benjamin Tepler


Best New Wine Country Destination

Eat This Now!

  • Chef’s choice tasting menu
  • saucisson sausage medley
  • local salmon with seasonal succotash 

Nothing about the generic hotel façade off Highway 99 hints at what waits inside: wine country’s most ambitious food gambit. Step inside Paulée to witness the big-city gleam of stone, steel, and glass that fills the generous 90-seat restaurant, clad in dark walnut. A 14-foot glass wine cellar—a thousand bottles strong, and deep in Northwest grapes—anchors the room. Meats come from down the road, and nearly half of the produce is grown next door—pristine fodder for the studied experiments that arrive stacked like still lifes on stark white plates. A chef’s counter protrudes into the dining room—the stage for a full battalion of aproned chefs tweezing away at all manner of precious local provenance. Chef-owner Daniel Mondok won accolades in Portland for blending French technique and American quirk at the short-lived Sel Gris. At Paulée, he’s still throwing witty culinary jabs, but with globe-hopping twists and modernist presentations. On any given day you might find foie gras caramel or plates decorated with barnacles plucked from seaside cliffs. The drink program impresses, with more than 66 by-the-glass pours, an irreverently annotated wine list, and smart pairings for Mondok’s food-craft. After all, this is still wine country. —Allison Jones & Benjamin Tepler

SADDLE UP! A hearty plateful of Cowboy Rancheros for brunch at Interurban


Brunch of the Year

Eat (Or Drink) This Now!

  • Bloody Mary
  • polenta and eggs
  • Cowboy Rancheros
  • salted caramel French toast

This summerInterurban emerged as a dark horse in Portland’s brunch race, quietly wowing small crowds on a latticed deck each weekend between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. The  short, simple menu, nearly half of it populated with cocktails, makes bleary-eyed decisions easy. A layered arrangement of spiced polenta, crispy speck, and over-easy eggs is served in a cast-iron skillet, along with a mouthwatering waft of the truffled provolone hidden within. The Cowboy Rancheros is a welcome study in texture with a stoner twist—a munch fest of eggs, cheese, chili, avocado salad, and Frito curls riding atop a crisped tortilla. The salted caramel French toast is the stuff of plate-licking daydreams, caramelized to golden perfection and dolloped with whipped cream and blueberry-maple compote. Even if sun-dappled mornings on the back deck are a rarity this time of year, brunch inside the cozy, timbered saloon is sure to brighten your day. —Rachel Ritchie


Best Sign of Life Beyond Pok Pok

Eat This Now!

  • fish cakes
  • guay tiew kua gai
  • hanger steak
  • lump crab curry
  • hot and sour prawn soup

Historically, in Portland’s universe of Thai food there is Pok Pok, and then there is everything else. But now there’s PaaDee, a haven of Thai comfort food and drinking snacks from the veterans behind popular spots Mee Sen and Kinara. The name means “to bring good things,” and PaaDee does just that. Teak tables lit by birdcage light fixtures invite convivial feasts fueled by classic cocktails gone Thai. The menu, meanwhile, invites exploration. Fried fish cakes come with a golden crisp and pleasant spring, sided by a slurp-worthy cucumber relish. Guay tiew kua gai is a pad Thai relative in its happiest form: a light, refreshing tangle of rice noodles sautéed with sprouts, salted radish, Draper Valley chicken, eggs, and romaine hearts. In the “comfort food” category, a simple grilled hanger steak arrives sliced thin, with a spicy tamarind dipping sauce. Crab is given the curry treatment, paired with Chinese celery, onions, and red peppers in a sumptuous dish that walks that elusive line between light and hearty. In the summer, windows fling open and tables spill onto the sidewalk for idyllic happy hours; in the winter, the space transforms into a sexy dining den. And no matter what the season, you won’t have to wait two hours for a seat. Rachel Ritchie 

PIGGING OUT Lardo’s sky-high signature burger and fries

Lardo & Sugar Cube

Upstarts of the Year

Eat This Now!

  • pork meatball banh mi
  • griddled mortadella
  • Lardo fries
  • chocolate caramel potato chip cupcake
  • panna cotta

Over the past two years, Lardo has lived the ultimate food-cart fantasy. In 2010, chef Rick Gencarelli migrated to Portland from Vermont and opened a sandwich cart on SE Belmont Street. His decadent creations landed at the very center of what could be described as a zeitgeist trifecta: local ingredients (broccoli raab, heirloom tomatoes, Tails and Trotters pork), traditional Italian meats (porchetta, mortadella), and thoughtful ethnic spins (pork meatball banh mi, coppa cubano). With a devoted following and a surplus of local buzz, Gencarelli stretched out into a brick-and-mortar location (fittingly, right across the street from pioneering cart pod Cartopia), adding more meaty sandwiches, 16 well-chosen taps, a full cocktail menu, and a smattering of sun-drenched picnic tables to his formula. Steps away, the food-cart spirit carries on with pastry pro (and former Good Food Here pod neighbor) Kir Jensen. Her Sugar Cube dessert wagon doles out lovely panna cottas topped with seasonal compotes, a legendary chocolate caramel potato chip cupcake, and thick milkshakes of all kinds. Sewn together as a ChefStable project, this is the double-punch of the year: a carnival of good eating, good drinking, and killer desserts. —Rachel Ritchie

Cedo’s Falafel & Gyros

Find of the Year

Eat This Now!

  • falafel sandwich
  • gyro sandwich
  • hummus
  • baba ghanoush
  • Cedo’s potatoes 

Muffled sighs eke out of a lunch crowd huddled along the slender bar as falafel fanatics attempt to speak, nose deep in fried cumin spice and house-made yogurt. Last February, Cedo’s emerged on a busy strip of NE MLK Jr. Boulevard with hummus so creamy you could backstroke through it, and craggy orbs of falafel that could end the Mideast conflict. Chickpea perfectionist and Palestine native Sam Hazza soaks his garbanzo beans overnight, toasts and grinds his coriander by hand, and cultures his own yogurt to create the city’s best falafel, its nutty, cumin-dusted fissures doused in a lemony tahini sauce and packed in soft pita. At its core, this is a mom-and-pop shop with the feel of Old-City Jerusalem—and proof that Brunchtown, USA, is wading deeper into serious ethnic territory. —Benjamin Tepler


Best (Only?) Place to Feel Like a Grown-up

Eat This Now!

  • seasonal soup
  • smoked-trout mousse 
  • ancient grains and chanterelles
  • duck liver with date and hazelnut butter
  • Grand Marnier soufflé

In a city deeply entrenched in a DIY ethos, chef-owner Tony Demes has created the year’s most out-of-the-box experience: modern French cooking circa 1990 in Midtown Manhattan, with a pinch of grand theater. Tony Bennett rules the soundtrack. Chandeliers shoot bling across a little sea of white linen–covered tables and plush seats of marshmallow and chrome. At the three-seat bar, a gentleman vigorously shakes whatever you like from an unwritten list that is strictly “made to order.” Jackson Pollock sauce-squiggles, cubist cuts of rare tuna, abstract fans of elegantly seared duck meat, and towering soufflés—each a weightless joy of fluff in a golden crust—glide out of a kitchen staffed by white-jacketed men toiling with tweezers in utter silence. Each dish is meticulously arranged on ever-shifting plates of outsize scale holding tiny portions of contemporary food meant to feed your mind, not fill your gut. The mode is at once proper and impressionistic: an English tea party hosted by Alice in Wonderland. (The service is also a bit surreal, in a sweetly clueless way.) Half of the room has come to witness the evening-length tasting menu. But the à la carte options are a wicked indulgence of their own, especially on a school night. —Karen Brooks

The Woodsman Tavern

Best Watering Hole

Drink This Now!

  • Blackthorn Sour
  • Judge, Jury and Executioner
  • anything Zimmerman has up his sleeve  

A constellation of Edison bulbs illuminates the corner of SE Division Street and 46th Avenue, the eastern terminus of Portland’s most vibrant culinary corridor. With the familiarity of Cheers and remarkable cocktail ingenuity, the Woodsman pulls double duty as the quintessential neighborhood bar and an überhip dining destination. Instead of a tufted Ted Danson, suspender-clad cocktail wizard Evan Zimmerman rules the bar, stirring macerated Sichuan flowers and cucumber essence into bourbon with an unflinching smile. If a Bloody Mary (aged for two weeks in supersecret spices and boosted with a hit of sherry) is too fussy, 14 curated copper taps flow strong, and an international wine list vies for best in the city. The food can lag behind, but it’s hard not to drink the Woodsman Kool-Aid: owner Duane Sorenson (of Stumptown Coffee fame) has pioneered a fresh vision of local drinking in a woodscape of tall booths, vintage Oregon panoramas, and Dungeness crab on ice. —Benjamin Tepler

JAPANESE JOURNEY Chef Kaoru Ishii behind the sushi bar at Hokusei


Best New Sushi

Eat This Now!

  • omakase
  • kuromame ginger crème brûlée

Among true sushi fanatics, the quest for Portland’s best is a raw topic. Variables are myriad—harmony, balance, the quality and cut of the fish, the seasoning of the rice—and opinions are passionately immovable. Argue as you like, but Hokusei, a warm, industrial space that surfaced quietly this spring, delivers the paramount sushi experience: a journey, doused in whimsy, steeped in discovery, and showcasing the best nigiri in the city. Head straight for the sushi bar and order up the omakase—a dizzying, five-course tasting menu that changes nightly according to the fresh sheet and the imagination of veteran, Tokyo-born sushi chef Kaoru Ishii. From one recent haul: steamed Japanese egg custard concealing buttery chunks of crab and scallop; an addictively rich bowl of nikudofu (a long-simmered mix of sliced beef belly, tofu, and Japanese green onion); a delicately rich, textured tower of shrimp, scallop, and fried eggplant topped with a velvety dollop of sautéed foie gras; black cod marinated in sweet soy and yuzu, crisped to perfection; and, the highlight, a fresh wave of nigiri featuring obscure fish from the Oregon coast and beyond. Yes, prices are steep, and you won’t find the hulking, cream cheese–stuffed rolls that have become de rigueur in American sushi—but you’ll leave feeling like you’ve gone somewhere. —Rachel Ritchie 

A REAL SPLASH Grilled octopus with potatoes and chorizo cream at Riffle NW

Riffle NW

Catch of the Year

Eat This Now!

  • beet-cured salmon carpaccio
  • sea urchin and quail egg shot
  • grilled octopus
  • dockside chowder
  • petrale sole

The story of Riffle NW begins with obsession—a deep respect for the ocean, the romance of Northwest fishing, and the simple joy of preparing and eating fresh fish. You can feel it in the bare bulbs hanging from weathered ropes and crab traps, the canvas sailcloth seatbacks, and reclaimed dock wood tables. It ripples through a menu that puts the Pacific on a pedestal: salmon appears as slivers of beet-cured delicacy, dockside chowder swims gracefully with the best of the sea, and a perfect petrale sole is honored from head to tail, its salty, deep-fried skeleton perched on top like a graceful sail. Filleting your fish front and center is chef-owner Ken Norris, a New York transplant and lifelong fisherman on a mission to show Portland what serious seafood looks like. A menu of dazzling cocktails led by the Riffle Collins—a bracing revelation of gin, absinthe, and celery juice—features enormous, hand-carved ices cubes. When night falls, the ambience swells—couples tuck away into dimly lit nooks, the bar becomes a symphony of clinking glasses, a raw seafood array glistens with drama—and it feels like Portland finally has the big-city seafood spot it’s been missing. —Rachel Ritchie


VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN! Quesadillas rojas at Xico


Best Sign of a Mexican Revolution

Eat This Now!

  • chips and chile de arbol salsa
  • quesadillas rojas
  • vegetable-powered street-style enchiladas
  • Idaho trout pozole
  • cocada (coconut-chocolate bar)
  • pastel borracho (rum-soaked brioche cake)

Holy white candles, pewter pitchers bursting with happy flowers, and fresh tortillas paper-wrapped like bonbons stand as a promising welcome to Xico. So does a small menu blistering with 17 varieties of chiles, canteloupe-honey paletas (ice pops), and a drinking plan possessed by Italian Lambrusco and mezcal flights. Oaxaca is in the house—but so is Oregon. In a year of surging Latin flavors and approaches, wine maven Liz Davis and chef Kelly Myers have reconsidered Mexican cuisine for Portland: playful notes, purist notions, handmade rigor, and fresh-ground masa fill out a room that feels like a beach hut with pearls. Consistency and decent service will take time, but the kitchen is already producing dishes destined for iconic status. That includes a crispy, smoldering mass of chile-glazed chips with cotija cheese (you can’t eat it fast enough) and a pozole makeover, starring a whole grilled trout (in place of the usual pig’s head) and a broth you’d be happy to swim in. Among the desserts is a dark chocolate–dipped oblong of coconut, almonds, and raisins that would make the Mounds folks blush. With a little work, Xico could take us places. —Karen Brooks

Olympia Provisions Southeast

Best Kept Secret

Eat This Now!

  • baby octopus
  • shrimp and chevre
  • roasted half chicken
  • mixed-bean pistachio pesto

Since chef Jason Barwikowski left the kitchen two years ago, OP Southeast chef Alex Yoder has quietly unleashed an exciting voice drawn from years in the trenches of Castagna and Clyde Common. With sharp focus, Yoder swims in Mediterranean waters, fixating on sardines and anchovies, putting corona beans through the paces, and experimenting with the textures of baby octopus as if his life depended upon its perfection. Rather than breaking rules, Yoder seeks to elevate Olympia Provisions’ renowned meat craft. Look past the curtains of fat saucisson and whole cured pigs on public display—there’s much more than charcuterie to be discovered here. —Benjamin Tepler


GET IN LINE! Hungry patrons wait for a scoop of Salt & Straw.

Salt & Straw

Phenom of the Year

Eat This Now!

  • sea salt with caramel ribbons
  • Stumptown coffee and bourbon
  • Chef’s Series creations
  • four-flavor “tasting flights”

In Portland, home of the food crazed, nothing trumps duck s’mores ice cream with toasted foie gras marshmallows ... for breakfast. We’re serious: that’s when culinary hunters begin the all-day frenzy at Salt & Straw, lining up like rock-concert hopefuls for a taste of something that confounds expectations of what a scoop shop can be. Cousins Kim and Tyler Malek inhabit their own orbit of cold fusion. Each scoop is wildly different, bulging with extreme seasonal riffs and locally made everything, beers to charcuterie. Even pinot noir gets into the act. So do local chefs, who star in ever-changing limited-batch creations, like Boke Bowl’s head rush of cream, kaffir lime, and fish sauce–singing caramel. It’s ice cream, a strangely wonderful taste of place, and the next frontier of food-world collaborations in scoop form. Does everything work? Of course not. The wildest flavors are better as small licks of amusements in the “tasting flight.” But the fresh-off-the-griddle cones are a marvel, and the honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper is already the stuff of cult dreams; queen Oprah and GQ’s cranky critic Alan Richman both love it. Like most things here, it will leave you dazzled and giggling. —Karen Brooks

Ned Ludd

Best Taste of Eccentric PDX

Eat This Now!

  • seasonal salads, any and all
  • roasted lamb (available every other week)
  • whole-roasted trout
  • chocolate chip cookie in a skillet
  • wood-fired “griddle” muffin (brunch) 

With his I-did-it-my-way bluster, ceramic-chicken fetish, and locavore intensity (think chanterelle vodka), Jason French embodies everything to love—and parody—about Portland’s food scene. The playful depth of his homesteader’s cabin gone mad never lets up, from the name Ned Ludd (after the loom–smashing, anti-industrial 19th-century British folk hero) to the restaurant’s lone stove, a six-foot-high fireplace fueled by gnarly logs stacked everywhere. But after four years as Portland’s quirky command center, Ned Ludd has found its food groove and served some of the year’s best meals. Dishes inspired by Old World recipes, campfire odes, and French’s imagination change daily (or even midmeal) as supplies ebb and flow. Among the surprises tumbling out of the open kitchen’s 750-degree cavern: a plate-size chocolate chip cookie, rising in a cast-iron skillet, its salt-crunching surface emerging one lucky degree shy of torched. Served warm with a spoon and the suggestion to douse each bite with cold milk, it’s the sum total of Ned Ludd’s reward: a sweet, demented pleasure. —Karen Brooks  


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