Ten Things to Devour in 2014
Nothing—not black ice or blustering winds—will halt the hot chase of a food craving. Desire unbound means tearing across town on a Sunday morning to get one of just 20 fried croissants oozing heavenly Catalan pastry cream, or racing frantically through the night for a soup blistering with Asian soul.
The urge is unpredictable, generated by whim, childhood flashbacks, or the visceral yearnings that spring from a boisterous evening out. When it takes hold, nothing else will do. So, which Portland haunts deliver a lusty chocolate cake, greasy-good fries, or a White Russian so perfect you gulp it?
Behold: 10 dishes (including one drink) worth inhaling this year.
1. SMALLWARES’ CRAB, NOODLE, AND SHRIMP MEATBALL SOUP
The briny crab stock exalts with Asian aromatics. Shrimp meatballs throw sparks of chile and fish sauce. Thin rice noodles slither everywhere. Herbs, seasonal surprises, fried shallots, and pickled Thai chiles sweeten the deal. What more can you ask of a soup?
If you were to cross-breed Canadian poutine, dirty fries, and Mid-East inspiration, it would look like this food-cart addiction: a beautiful mess of curry-clad chicken, thick-cut fries, creamy hummus, and tahini, with help-yourself sauces from Yemen and Tunisia, each hotter than brimstone fire. Feel free to demolish inside the adjacent Base Camp Brewing.
3. ROMAN CANDLE’S PIZZA BIANCA
This is what happens when an East Coast slice joint dressed in marble meets Rome’s pizza bianca (wood-fired bread at the crossroads of focaccia and pizza) and owner Duane Sorenson’s unstoppable obsession with the best ingredients (Olli Salumeria pepperoni... on pizza?). Grab a hefty “square”—crispy potato to anchovy-olive—and doctor with sea salt, shredded Grana Padano, and fiery chiles.
Make the perfect croissant dough, fill with vanilla bean–speckled custard cream, fry to a fragile crisp, then roll in crackling cinnamon, sugar, and Sichuan pepper. Eureka! Call them Catalan xuixos—or simply the top candidate for Portland’s next cult pastry. (Sunday brunch only.)
5. BLUEBIRD BAKERS’ TOASTED COCONUT MACAROONS
This is as good as a macaroon gets: a toasted “crust” of golden coconut chew, a vast interior of moist shreds, and a center bordering on custard, dunked in dark bittersweet Belgian chocolate.
6. LA TAQ’S CHIPS, SALSA, QUESO, AND GUACAMOLE
When do Tex-Mex chips and dips become something more—a taste worth commemorating in the year’s top 10? When the chips are fresh-cut and fried to order, the salsas (red and green) rattle with balanced heat, the queso makes an irrefutable argument for Velveeta, and the guacamole is simple perfection.
Modernist bar man Chauncey Roach re-shakes the White Russian like James Bond: glamorous, mysterious, and full of flavor gadgets. The iced-up base of vodka and half-and-half goes deep with House Spirits Distillery’s coffee liqueur, chocolate bitters, and cinnamon syrup. On top: a luxurious cloud of vanilla foam and crystals of Jacobsen’s Stumptown coffee salt. We’ll have three.
Chicken McNuggets journey to Southern India via a North Portland food cart: dunked in chickpea-rice flour, fried to a spicy glory, then wrapped in a thin dosa pancake. Each cone pops with beautiful pickled things, cardamom-infused honey, and crunchy surprise.
9. LITTLE BIRD’S BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD
The bistro salad is reborn. Instead of frisee and lardons, butter lettuce rises like a Frank Gehry installation from a foundation of warm lentils and shreds of coriander-rubbed lamb neck, with a yogurt tang and subtle heat. Bites move easily from warm to cold, spicy to roasty, inspired to delicious.
10. THE SUGAR CUBE’S CHOCOLATE BLACKOUT CAKE
Here lies everything you were denied in a Hostess cupcake: three stories of stout-happy chocolate cake, darker than the jungle and stacked with bittersweet ganache. The whole thing oozes salted caramel sauce. Wicked.