Crowd pleasers: where your group feels at home


• BeWon

BeWon is one of those rare restaurants that sticks to its guns, dictating what people want and not the other way around.

By virtue of BeWon's meticulous cookery and presentation, and servers' contagious verve and patient explanations, the restaurant has quickly carved out a gleaming reputation. There are two routes to take at BeWon: the prix fixe path of Han Jung Shik, an eight-course extravaganza that approximates a traditional Korean meal for an unbelievably affordable $24.95, or a dinner constructed of a la carte orders. You should try both.

Han Jung Shik is a stimulating meal that takes diners on a memorable tour of the five flavors of Asian cooking (salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter), while free ordering allows sampling of not-to-be-missed dishes that aren't featured in the prix fixe.

Main courses, such as broiled mackerel caked in sea salt and sliced pork in a red-pepper barbecue sauce, are satisfying, but they take a back seat to the vivid parade of accompanying side dishes. Teensy saucers hold the likes of dried cod, kimchi, small pancakes chunked with vegetables and crab, delicious flank steak strips and dried kelp flakes sprinkled with sugar.

Ñ Christina Melander

Bottom line: Out-of-the-ordinary food, intriguing rice wines

Serving: Lunch and dinner

Entree prices: $10.95-$18.95

Address/phone: 1203 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-464-9222

• Ginya

Unless you are well acquainted with Japanese cuisine, miso soup and edamame may be the only recognizable menu items at Japanese import Ginya.

But please don't be scared off, Ginya has something different in store for you Ñ and it's drenched in beer and massaged with sake. The showstopping, must-have dish at the Spartan, scarlet-accented Ginya is Washugyu, or Kobe beef.

Kobe beef is the meat of cattle raised and treated like royalty in Kobe, Japan. To exact a rich, meltingly tender product, the cows get a steady diet of beer and rice-wine massages. The beef arrives at your table as marbled rib-eye, short ribs, thinly sliced lean meat Ñ and if you're bold Ñ as cuts of tongue and large intestine.

And it comes chilled and raw because for the most part at Ginya, you do the cooking. Each table is equipped with a small sunken grill in the center. The amiable, informative wait staff fire up the grill and offer advice on cooking times and sauce pairings. You also can toss shrimp, scallops, squid, chicken thigh and assorted vegetables on the grill or forgo grilling altogether in favor of Ginya's hearty rice and noodle dishes.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Novel grill-your-own approach is great for groups

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $39.75 for Ginya Premium dinner (serves 2); noodle and rice dishes $5.75-$10.75; Shabu-Shabu (Kobe beef cooked in hot broth) starts at $19 per person

Address/phone: 4615-A S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-231-8364

• Sin Ju

Seated in breezy tatami rooms and sequestered alcoves, surrounded by orchids, potted bamboo and trickling fountains, it's easy to forget the food at pretty Sin Ju.

But the well-edited trappings are not mere gloss masking mediocre meals; they simply amplify the ultrarefined Japanese food. Sin Ju cooks up a full range of traditional items, ranging from teriyaki to maki. But in lieu of including everything under the sushi sun, Sin Ju keeps it brief and focused, listing a few favorites and introducing eaters to unfamiliar rolls.

It's fun to order a mix-and-match meal of sushi and cooked dishes, perhaps starting with a plate of excellent grilled squid, some miso soup and moving onto the Rainbow Roll. This innovation elevates the veggie-packed California roll by topping it with glistening sashimi. It lives up to its name: arranged in an arc, each piece of the roll is finished with a different slice of velvety, colorful fish that tastes of the sea.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Dynamite sashimi

Serving: Lunch and dinner

Entree prices: $8-$24

Address/phone: 1022 N.W. Johnson St., 503-223-6535

• Tapeo

Tapeo, a small Spanish restaurant on leafy Thurman Street in Northwest Portland, showcases tapas, which means 'little dishes' in Spanish. You gotta love a cuisine originally intended to curb hunger between main meals.

Dinner at Tapeo starts off with a half loaf of dark crusty bread, and there is a fantastic selection of red and white wines by the glass to get things rolling.

Tapas are for sharing and, when ordered in multiples as they are meant to be, make a complete meal unto themselves. Tapas also make for a social eating experience as diners pass the clay plates to and fro, sampling small amounts of chorizo sausage and saffron rice, or prawns and wild mushrooms.

Standouts on a recent visit were the empanadas del dia, served with salsa verde and a tomato-based salsa called sofrito. The warm turnovers, filled with mushrooms and cheese, were so good the waitress didn't have a chance to return to the kitchen before we requested another round. Skewered sea scallops wrapped in serrano ham (vieiras a la parrilla) came highly recommended by her and also were delicious.

When eating tapas it's easy to become grandiose: What begins as a small meal turns into a rollicking, high-spirited feast.

Ñ Michaela Bancud

Bottom line: Tapeo taps unknown hunger.

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $3.75-$9.50

Address/phone: 2764 N.W. Thurman St., 503-226-0409

• Veritable Quandary

Peppered with local ingredients ranging from Fraga Farm goat cheese to Cotton Creek lamb raised in Junction City, Veritable Quandary's market-driven menu is a swell representation of what our rain-soaked region brings to the table.

This wasn't always the case at this cozy, 32-year-old mainstay. But ever since Chef Anne Barnette joined the restaurant in 1995, she's slowly been chipping away at the pub fare, replacing it with the likes of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with Marcona almonds and fork-tender duck confit that boasts a contrasting crispy skin. When available, the must-have appetizer is Gruyre- and-Granny Smith beignets, weightless fritters oozing melted cheese and sweet-tart apple pieces.

For the main course, if you can stand not to order Barnette's signature osso buco, try one of the fresh fish specials such as red snapper and sweet crab paired with piquant kumquat slices.

Veritable Quandary's approach to wine is as original as the food. It boasts an extensive, exciting by-the-glass program of about 50 wines and a smart cellar with plenty of bottles in the $20 to $30 range.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Full of surprises, the innovative menu is a far cry from pub grub.

Serving: Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch

Entree prices: $17-$26

Address/phone: 1220 S.W. First Ave., 503-227-7342