Bread and Brew
I wrote my first restaurant review for the Tribune in November 2003. You can't Google it, though. No reviews from that year were posted online.
In thinking back at the year in food, I got to thinking about how much food coverage has changed. Like many of the trends in dining, the changes have been fermenting for some time, and in some ways they go hand in hand.
For instance, the Tribune's rules on style used to require reviews to be written without use of the first person, and entirely in the present tense. You couldn't say 'I had the oysters.' You had to say, 'Oysters are to be had.'
It was a formal style that created a sense of timeless objectivity, almost omniscience, on the part of the reviewer. And it became increasingly impractical as more and more restaurants took a seasonal approach to menus. I remember struggling with verb tenses when I wrote about Park Kitchen, where the menu was changing daily. By the time I got to the Ripe supper club, where a different dinner was served communally each night, it was all over - time and personal experience had to be part of the story.
Back then, we waited a strict three months from the time a restaurant opened to review it. No one does that anymore. Reports start showing up online on the first day.
Of course, everything everywhere seems faster because of the Internet. For food writing, specifically, it's had a major impact.
I'm not one of those people who thinks that the Internet killed newspapers. But it's true that the Internet has made some things harder. For example, anonymity is pretty much impossible. At the same time, the proliferation of bloggers and Yelpers and tweeters means that ratings aren't in the hands of the few any more. If a restaurant cares about reviews, it needs to treat every customer as a potential reviewer - which is what they ought to have done all along.
I think that Yelp has generally been a good influence, spurring conversations about how the review process works, and moving food criticism towards a more casual, immediate and less authoritarian tone.
The Internet has also spurred the side of food writing that isn't about food. Were there more shakeups, spin-offs and pastry chef musical chairs this year, or was it just that every detail was reported? Restaurant gossip is a much bigger deal than it used to be, a fact signaled by the arrival of EaterPDX.com, part of a national network dedicated to breaking restaurant news. (I'm happy to note that it hasn't seemed to cut into the audience of some excellent homegrown sites like portlandfoodanddrink.com.)
Portland continues to get great national press. Food reality shows are recruiting here. We have gastro-tourists. I wouldn't have predicted any of this ten years ago.
Some newer trends that I've noticed: Grass fed beef burgers. Food cart overkill. And is frozen yogurt replacing cupcakes? God, I hope not.
I have eaten very well this year. Laurelhurst Market was probably the best single meal of the year, and I would have gone there more often, if only they would take reservations.
I had a lot of really first-rate casual food including hash at Tasty • Sons, meatballs at Miho, a po' boy at Bunk Bar, the pizza at Gladstone Coffee and Pizza and a chicken pot pie from Pie Spot.
Restaurants seem to be giving more attention to dessert. The flourless chocolate cake has finally backed away from the table. Fats, which has closed, served a memorable toffee pudding, and I also reminisce fondly about the ice cream at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty, a chocolate soufflé at Genoa and butterscotch pudding at Irving Street Kitchen.
For next year, it looks like French bistro food is cropping up all over. There's Le Pigeon's spinoff, Little Bird, and the new St. Jack on Southeast Clinton Street. The former Fats space on Killingsworth will be the French-influenced Cocotte.
It makes a lot of sense. Bistro cooking is down-to-earth enough for tough times and for Portland's impenetrable casualness, but challenging enough to keep a good chef interested. And everyone has become newly obsessed with Julia Child and 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking.'
Something else that's going to unfold in the next year is that increasing numbers of outsiders are going to try to cash in Portland's newfound cachet. For the most part, they will fail. As local restaurants have become more sophisticated, local diners have become much more discerning, without losing any of the customary Portland insularity.