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Northwest bountiful: celebrating the freshest ingredients in the region

Laslow's Northwest

From an inexpensive happy hour hot sheet to the well-rounded bistro menu to the top-shelf dinner menu, Laslow's Northwest makes its mouthwatering fare accessible on any budget.

More and more, the happy hour and bar offerings reflect chef Eric Laslow's Cuban ancestry. There's tostones (fried green plantains), potato-salt cod fritters, picadillo-stuffed empanadas and a terrific sloppy Joe made with Painted Hills natural beef.

The $10-and-under bistro fare served in the tasteful downstairs bar also includes a killer burger with smoked mozzarella and applewood-smoked bacon, firm olives with assorted cheeses, sublime duck confit with fried onions and Laslow's signature pumpkin-custard crab cakes.

The upstairs of this charming Victorian house-turned-restaurant serves as the more formal (but still relaxed) dining room. Determined by what's fresh and in season, main dishes are at once comforting and refined. Expert risotto with kabocha squash, mushrooms and baby spinach, for example, is ultimate comfort food, composed of premium ingredients.

Ñ Christina Melander

Bottom line: Brilliant Northwest cuisine you'll return to again and again

Serving: Dinner, bar menu

Entree prices: $14.75-$22.75

Address/phone: 2327 N.W. Kearney St., 503-241-8092

Caprial's Bistro and Wine

Open kitchens permit a close-up peek at the fairly chaotic business of readying meals at breakneck pace, a chance to glimpse chefs tending to four pans with one hand while creating vivid garnishes with the other.

At Caprial's, the best spot in the house may be at the end of the kitchen counter, where you get to witness a cook's occasional meltdown and hear waiters freely cursing when they deliver salmon and duck to the couple who ordered vegetarian tamales. Only four or five entrees are offered nightly; the longer list of appetizers is more attention grabbing.

Prawns sautŽed to sticky-sweet glory in a garlic-chili glaze, served with noodles and chopped cashews, is a perfectly portioned, lip-tingling starter. The Brown Sugar Cocktail Ñ Maker's Mark bourbon, lemon and lime juices and maple syrup Ñ makes a cool foil for the prawns.

Caprial's specialty cocktails, though a steep $9 each, nonetheless elevate the restaurant's fun factor. Trade up to a glass of brawny red wine to go with the banner pork loin chop entree. Marinated and glazed in a maple-spiked pork stock reduction, the robust chop is full of smoky,

honeyed flavor.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Sweet flavors in regional

American cuisine

Serving: Lunch, dinner

Entree prices: $19-$28

Address/phone: 7015 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., 503-236-6457

Wildwood Restaurant & Bar

Wildwood has become a favorite destination for those who appreciate chef Cory Schreiber's use of locally grown, organic foods, served in a warmly contemporary, unpretentious setting.

People watchers may prefer to dine in Wildwood's bustling bar area, where patrons can choose between an intimate table, bar seating and a front-row kitchen view at the chef's counter.

The menu is the same in the adjoining dining room, which isn't as formal as the term suggests. Crisp, white linen tablecloths and stellar service are the only nods to the traditional dining experience in the space, which is appointed with booth seating and decorated in soothing yellows and greens.

Wildwood's list of appetizers is as varied and mouthwatering as the entree selection. Favorites include the Mizuna garden farm salad, which includes generous additions of toasted hazelnuts, soft goat cheese and dried currants, dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. A salad that sounds daunting at first Ñ dressed greens served with crispy fried oysters and pancetta Ñ is surprisingly light, an interesting mix of textures and earthy flavors.

Wildwood's entrees also feature quietly sure combinations of ingredients. Citrus-marinated king salmon served with a toasted hazelnut and wild mushroom ragout is a delicious homage to Northwest flavors, while Painted Hills New York steak, served on buttered noodles with shallots slow-cooked in red wine, is the kind of rich dining experience that few Portland restaurants can deliver.

Ñ Jill Spitznass

Bottom line: Excellent fare without flash, served in an unassuming atmosphere

Serving: Lunch and dinner

Entree prices: $19-$32

Address/phone: 1221 N.W. 21st Ave., 503-248-9663

William's on 12th

With its hunter and crimson color palette, brocade-upholstered chairs and numerous gilt-framed paintings, William's on 12th could double as the study in some English country manor.

The menu, however, is French with some Northwestern detours.

Chef-owner William Henry's commitment to using top ingredients from local growers and suppliers Ñ Juniper Grove goat cheese, Painted Hills beef, Ken's Artisan bread Ñ is rewarded in richly flavored dishes such as white truffle spaetzle. Rarely seen on restaurant menus, the firm noodle-shaped dumplings, mixed here with roasted squash, goat cheese and hazelnuts, offer a nice break from pasta.

The classic oeufs en meurette, a pair of poached eggs in a red wine sauce with bacon lardons on a platform of brioche toast, is as fine a starter as you could hope for. Making for memorable dinners are such unusual details as sea bass served with skin, bones and tail still attached atop impossibly fluffy sweet potato purŽe, a complimentary soup intermezzo and ice cream spiced by persimmon and cinnamon.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Gentle cooking that begets bold flavors

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $19-$24

Address/phone: 207 S.E. 12th Ave., 503-963-9226

Giorgio's

From bottom Ñ a black-and-white checkerboard tile floor Ñ to top Ñ low lighting reflecting off butter walls Ñ Giorgio's is a classy package.

Tuck yourself into one of the comfortable brocade booths and sip on a Negroni (gin, Campari, vermouth, soda and lemon twist) or spruced-up Bellini to prepare your appetite for the good things to come.

Now you're ready for one of chef Michael Clancy's purŽed vegetable soups spiked with star anise or the clever mushroom strudel that's dressed up as a spring roll and served with a few wonderfully dry duck slices.

Next comes a plate of homemade pasta. Choosing among the lacy, rice paper-thin sweet potato ravioli with sugar snap peas and prosciutto; browned, bullet-sized gnocchi with sprightly spot prawns and fresh artichoke hearts; or foot-long pappardelle noodles tossed with shredded wild boar, fennel and tomatoes, is the hard part. All are devastatingly delicious.

Ñ C.M.

Bottom line: Sublime homemade pasta

Serving: Dinner

Entree prices: $17-$25

Address/phone: 1131 N.W. Hoyt St., 503-221-1888

Higgins

Is your sense of regional superiority in crisis? Head to Higgins and get full of yourself again. It rules in a smart, uniquely Portlandesque way.

Bearded lawyer types hang at the dark wood bar, rubbing shoulders with brainy bike messengers. Not fussy like it could be, Higgins is a confident place with nothing left to prove that it already hasn't proved a bazillion times over in its eight years of existence.

On tap is a rotating selection of craft beers, including one called 'Greg,' named after owner and Portland patron chef, Greg Higgins. There also is a full bar.

On the kitchen front, Higgins is best known for turning out dishes with all-natural ingredients. It also has a terrific bistro menu perfect for leaner times, so you don't have to eat in the main dining room unless you prefer white tablecloths to surfaces you can bang your fist on for emphasis.

Among the highlights: Oregon Yaquina Bay oysters are bracing, briny and fresh as can be, and a bistro portion of a rich and creamy risotto dish with smoked salmon goes a long way.

At Higgins, the waiters look like well-scrubbed art students, and the rest of the staff is always easygoing, on the ball and never snobbish.

Ñ Michaela Bancud

Bottom line: Some of the best food in the world comes from Oregon.

Serving: Lunch and dinner

Entree prices: $14.75-$26

Address/phone: 1239 S.W. Broadway, 503-222-9070