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Diners treated to lots of diversions in 2002

The biggest trend in Portland's dining scene in 2002? The decidedly nonculinary, windowed garage door, which popped up again and again in celebrated spots following in the footsteps of Square Peg, Holden's and Binks:

Gotham Building Coffee Shop, Florio Bakery, Tiny's and Noble Rot.

Which leads us to the second most noticeable 'in' thing: wine bars. No fewer than four Ñ Noble Rot, Wine Down, Navarre and Vigne Ñ opened anew, while another big player, the one-time wine shop 750 ml, traded up for a slick remodel and gave food an equal emphasis.

Within the wine bar phenomenon, you only need to glimpse the size of the serving plates to spot another microtrend: tapas-sized portions that allow diners to sample a number of dishes in a nonlinear fashion. Expect to see more places following suit since this fun approach to eating satisfies an appetite for new flavors and hip presentation.

Befitting the state of the economy, diners were flooded with inexpensive choices. Buckman Bistro, the new bar annex of upscale William's on 12th, is one excellent example of good eats on the cheap. It doesn't require a reservation or a fat wallet but banks on cooking with quality ingredients Ñ and cooking well. The burger here rivals the classy ground sirloin sandwiches at counterpart bistros Higgins Bar and Cafe Castagna.

Ethnic eateries are known for their delicious affordability, and now you can add to the list Green Onion, the born-again Persian restaurant offering one of the best chicken dishes in town (tender chicken smothered with a slightly sweet sauce of pomegranate, walnuts and onions); Ca–ita, the sprawling Old Town offshoot of Cuban favorite Pambiche; and BeWon, the terrific Korean restaurant where chic waiters serve centuries-old cuisine, and a whopping, multicourse feast goes for a mere $24.95.

Our fair city also was treated to a bigger and better La Calaca Comelona, a second Pastini Pastaria branch, an east-side Mio Sushi and the unique Ginya, the Japanese Kobe beef emporium where customers throw their own shrimp, squid and steak on the barbie, which is built right into the table.

Pacific Coast Restaurants (Portland Steak & Chophouse, Newport Bay, Stanfords) tightened its grip on the town with swank-for-the-masses spots Portland City Grill in Big Pink and Manzana Rotisserie Grill in the Pearl.

Pacific Coast also snagged the massive restaurant space in the old Weinhard's Brewery; the concept is under development.

Entrepreneur Andrew Sugar expanded his empire too, opening high-end Vivid in the Pearl District spot briefly occupied by El Zagu‡n.

While the Tin Shed Garden Cafe and Second Story Bistro brought us new places to break morning bread (and lunch and dinner baguette, for that matter), beloved breakfast joints Daily Cafe in the Pearl and J & M Cafe branched out with outstanding new dinner menus.

It was a year of several farewells Ñ L'Auberge, Doris' Cafe, Celadon and Paparazzi Pastaficio (both of 'em) Ñ to name a few, but also a year for comebacks. If a place as unapologetic and stubborn as the Vat & Tonsure can rise from the dead after five comatose years and thrust itself into vogue with no effort, anything can happen. 2003, bring it on.

Contact Christina Melander at

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