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Great eats, sweet treats, unique beats

A couple of months ago, I outlined some gripes I have with restaurants (arctic dining rooms, uninformed servers, laminated menus at posh places).

In this, my last regularly scheduled column, I'm going to rave instead of rant. Everyone's mad for a list, so here goes: a top five of what's to love about Portland dining.

That pioneering spirit. Even with the economy in the bidet, intrepid restaurateurs aren't scared off or slowing down. The past year has seen tremendous comers on the scene, including affordable wine bars such as Noble Rot, Navarre and Vigne; great neighborhood restaurants, including Fife, Buckman Bistro and Tin Shed Garden Cafe; and more awesome ethnic eateries such as BeWon, Ginya, Ca–ita and the reborn Green Onion. This year alone, a handful of low-key nosh spots have arrived: Caldera, Sungari Pearl, Jam, Vine Leaves, Dining Room and Eastside Cafe, to name a few. And with Scott Dolich's Park Kitchen on the horizon, there's more than just the Rose Festival to look forward to this spring.

Sugarplums. If you have a problem with self-control, you may want to shut your eyes now and steer clear of Pix P‰tisserie. Otherwise, visit this new confection emporium early and often for Cheryl Wakerhauser's unsurpassed sweets. From chocolate nougatine discs that are tiny but filled with galaxies of flavor to her simple, fruit-heavy Ghetto Cake, Wakerhauser's creations spread more joy than Audrey Tautou in 'AmŽlie.'

Sunshine state. Whiling away a morning at a cool coffee shop can be just as satisfying and indulgent as a swank seven-course dinner. Naturally, Portland has scores of enticing cafes. Florio Bakery, Gotham Building Coffee Shop and Ken's Artisan Bakery meet my mantra that an inky cup of coffee is even better with a muffin or coffee cake Ñ especially in comely, light-filled environs like these.

Resolute modesty. You could argue that Portland doesn't have enough restaurants that qualify as truly chic and cosmopolitan. You could say that Stumptown forever will be Seattle's provincial little sister. Or you could salute the city's steadfast (if sometimes silly) commitment to the philosophy that less is more. Gents needn't bother with a spiffy jacket and tie at Portland's finest-dining establishments, Couvron and Genoa. In fact, they might be more at home in rumpled Dickies in these decidedly frumpy dining rooms. But at least you never could accuse us of putting on airs.

Verve and nerve. Quirks have staying power; they leave an imprint on your mind and mesh so well with a town's character that they stick around forever. What's not to love about a sassy place like the Stepping Stone, where a waiter might utter 'Nice going, genius' should you accidentally level a glass of OJ. Or a cafe that sells killer sandwiches alongside shower caps, condoms and Japanese candies (Crowsenberg's Half & Half). After getting his Polaroid snapped to decorate the girls' loo, who could turn his back on the sweet creperie Le Happy? And how about those Pabst 40s served at Delta Cafe and Chez What? Hey, it may not be paradise, but Portland is all ours.

ForkLift will continue to appear on an occasional basis. Christina Melander still can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .