The 4 Most Memorable Portland Restaurant Moments of the Year

A handful of standing ovations are in order for the year's best menu, dish, spread, and cuisine.

By Karen Brooks October 9, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Castagna's Vegetable Menu

Ten-course meditations on Oregon’s grocery cart are now a regular option at Castagna. One of the country’s best young chefs, with his own slate of advanced techniques and poetic plating, Justin Woodward soars above most farm-to-tablers. This is where celery root struts like Rihanna and slow-roasted carrots look like magic Lincoln Logs and taste of sweet potato pie.

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Little Bird's Fried Chicken Coq au Vin

Coq au vin was France’s most recognizable dish—until Little Bird chef Gabriel Rucker, a two-time James Beard medalist, hauled it to the American South this spring. His chicken get fried, Mississippi-style, then swooped over creamed potatoes hedonistic with raclette cheese. The iconic aromatics get deconstructed and flipped; the red wine simmered down to a garnet pool while bacony mushrooms rise atop. Julia Child would cackle.   

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Portland Penny Diner is the Clark Kent of restaurants. Once a month it emerges as superhero pop-up DaNet, bent on saving old Russian cuisine kidnapped by Communist politics years ago. Using dishes translated from ancient literature, Belarus native and chef Vitaly Paley delivered the year’s most epic, emotional feast with zakuski drinking foods, vodka galore, and a vast expanse of sour cream and blinis. The table is laden with surprises: rabbit soup for the soul; salmon pie for the czars; and baked ice cream on a stick. 

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Langbaan's Chiang Mai Cuisine

PoMo’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year is still on a winning streak, unlocking the herb-zinging secrets of Thailand in choreographed evenings—each month trekking to a different region. Even by Langbaan’s standards, June’s Chiang Mai menu was remarkable, bursting with old-school specials and new-wave ideas. Highlights: vintage Chinese-Thai duck soup with two broths and pickled lime water; a salad of green mangoes, cashews, fried cauliflower, and a giant confit pork knuckle; and local cherry ice cream clad in Thai-style condiments—peanuts, jackfruit, and the unreal chew of sticky black rice. We’re hoping, praying (OK, begging) for a return trip in 2016.

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