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Portlands food kept coming in 2009

Bread and Brew • Forget the poutine and oddball motifs, meat and izakaya are in
by: L.E. BASKOW, The Ping Restaurant in Chinatown features a variety of Asian dishes, including (clockwise, from bottom right) a baby octopus skewer, quail egg skewer, Vietnamese-style short rib and a Macanese-style pork chop bun.

Well, 2009 didn't turn out as badly as I thought it would.

With the endless talk about the recession, there were fears that Portland's restaurant scene would be gutted just when things were starting to get really interesting. Times were tough across the board, but the carnage was kept to a minimum.

There was plenty of other good news, too, at least from my perspective.

It can be annoying when the same items keep turning up at restaurant after restaurant, but several of the motifs of 2009 - green goddess salad dressing, St. Germaine liqueur - remained enjoyable. I could have done without all that poutine (fries with cheese and gravy), though.

I love sandwiches, and it was a big year for sandwiches, with Bunk leading the charge. Meat, Cheese, Bread is also excellent and a little less traditional (combining, for instance, bacon and beets). The new Kenny and Zuke's venture SandwichWorks opened this spring. And one of 2009's best new restaurants, Laurelhurst Market, also makes some of the best sandwiches in town.

Laurelhurst Market also represents an increased fascination with butchery during the past year. The Market is a canny combination of steakhouse and butcher shop, with the glass counter out front selling, among other things, sausages, whole chickens and cuts of beef.

Fast on its heels is Olympic Provisions, offering lunch, dinner and a meat case that right now is full of sausages as it prepares its first batches of cured meats. It's a natural development given the increased availability of high-quality, locally raised meat. Another result is the ubiquity of upscale burgers.

The tapas bar of mid-decade gave way to the izakaya this year. An izakaya, if you haven't been keeping up, is a Japanese tavern serving small plates of food. The idea is to create a more casual, sociable scene than that of a formal restaurant.

The tiny Tanuki achieves this with discussion-worthy food and lots of beer and sake, while Miho on Interstate feels more like a Northwest bar and serves fantastic noodles and meatballs. The flashy Departure serves elaborate cocktails and small plates of Japanese food in the most stylish dining room in town.

Ping in Chinatown also falls roughly into this category, but with its own distinct personality and food from across Asia.

Whiskey was big in 2009. Pope House Bourbon Lounge and Branch Whiskey Bar both opened, and the simply named Whiskey Bar opened on Northwest First Avenue.

There was an increased interest in the food of northern Europe.

Fats Pub is doing good things with the black sheep of the lot, British food. Prost on North Mississippi celebrates the German beer hall and Spints Alehouse on Northeast 28th Avenue focuses on German food and local booze. Grüner, serving Alpine cuisine including cured meats, freshwater fish, schnitzel, goulash and schnapps is the new venture from chef Chris Israel, a godfather of Portland's food scene.

Grüner opened in December, as did the revamped Genoa under new chef David Anderson. That means that the hottest new restaurants of 2010 may already be open.

Of course, the biggest deal of the year was food carts, with more than 100 new carts opening in town during the year. I think we can all agree that some of those carts are good, some are great and that enough has already been written about them to last well into 2010.

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