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Portland chefs took noodle fans on a world tour in 07

Taste
by: JIM CLARK, With chewy homemade noodles, crunchy bean sprouts and pork swimming in a rich broth, Biwa’s ramen bowl made the hit list for 2007.

After a year spent checking out an endless stream of new restaurants (in between revisiting older ones), I haven't been in the mood to eat out lately.

Instead I've been in my kitchen making cookies, pies and cakes, soups, stews and roasts. I made it through an entire week recently without visiting a single restaurant.

Now in the new year, I'm ready to hang up my apron and start going to restaurants again. But before I head out the door in 2008, here's a list of the dishes I liked best last year.

Forget the boar - for me 2007 was the year of the noodle. I'm not usually drawn to the pasta or noodle section of a menu, but last year my meandering led me in the right direction.

After slurping a bowl of ramen at izakaya-style restaurant Biwa (215 S.E. Ninth Ave., 503-239-8830, www.biwarestaurant.com) I learned why there are so many noodle shops in Tokyo.

Authentic ramen (as opposed to the packaged instant stuff) is fantastic. Long, chewy homemade noodles swim in a rich, earthy broth with pieces of pork, crunchy bean sprouts and green onion. A whole hard-boiled egg added to the bowl is an option that you should go for.

Pho Huy (11342 S.E. 82nd Ave., 503-353-6646) is a modest-looking, family-owned, Vietnamese restaurant in a dumpy little mall on Southeast 82nd Avenue. But there's nothing shabby about the restaurant's bun special.

Bun is a vermicelli-style rice noodle, and Pho Huy's special includes a big bowl of the noodles with a little torn lettuce, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, fried onions, cilantro, pickled carrots, daikon and crushed peanuts accompanied by a small bowl of spicy vinegar.

The noodles are topped with a crispy roll, a skewer of grilled shrimp and stir-fried chicken, beef or pork. It's a big, fat meal in a bowl, and it's utterly delicious.

My husband claims that Pok Pok or, as it's now called, the Whiskey Soda Lounge (3226 S.E. Division St., 503-232-1387, www.pokpokpdx.com) gets more than enough press.

But I'd be betraying my taste buds not to mention the popular Thai restaurant's phat si ew muu. Fresh, wide, rice noodles are stir-fried with Chinese broccoli, pork, egg, garlic and black soy sauce.

The fat and flat noodles have a slightly charred flavor that goes perfectly with the intense taste of the Chinese broccoli. Phat si ew muu also is available (and excellent) vegetarian, made with tofu instead of pork.

And it's an excuse to visit the restaurant for lunch since it's not on the dinner menu. But you'll have to wait until Jan. 14, since the restaurant is closed until then for redecorating and upgrades.

This fall I found an irresistible pasta dish at Caffe Allora (504 N.W. Ninth Ave., 503-445-4612). Penne with vodka cream sauce and lumps of crab meat used to be an occasional special, but so many people were devastated when it wasn't available that it's now on Allora's regular menu.

The creamy sauce is wonderfully seasoned, the noodles perfectly al dente and the crab luxurious. I rarely go back to a restaurant right after I've written about it, but the penne with crab has lured me back to Allora often.

Oodles of noodles weren't the only amazing meals I had last year.

At vegan restaurant Nutshell (3808 N. Williams Ave., 503-292-2627, www.nutshellpdx.com) I was surprised to discover one of the tastiest stews I've ever had.

Nutshell's hearty hominy stew is made with peaches, potatoes, plantains, dandelion greens, red peppers and a bunch of other vegetables. It's slightly salty and slightly sweet, like an excellent corn bread.

The best new restaurant to open last year, Toro Bravo (120 N.E. Russell St., 503-281-4464, www.torobravopdx.com) offered several dishes I could put on my favorites list, including salt cod fritters and grilled anchovies.

But the item I order every time at Toro is the simple salad of greens topped with chopped hard-boiled egg and toasted hazelnuts and tossed with a perfectly balanced vinaigrette. It's the perfect green salad.

My favorite fish dish of the year was at Pazzo (627 S.W. Washington St., 503-228-1515, www.pazzo.com). Its storione is tender, pan-fried sturgeon with butter and duck fat-braised creamy escarole, tomato conserves, shellfish broth and bergamot (a kind of Italian citrus) olive oil.

You'll definitely want bread to sop up the extra broth.

Our city's reputation as a restaurant town should mean it's easy to find excellent steak here (outside of the chain steakhouses). It's not. I was frequently disappointed by the steak I had at (otherwise fine) restaurants last year. But one spot did serve a superb piece of meat.

23Hoyt (529 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-445-7400, www.23hoyt.com) offered a flat-iron steak with red-wine sauce (but not too much) with roasted chanterelles, watercress and terrific french fries.

I honestly didn't have a single dessert that really rocked my world last year, although I did taste a few nice ones. But, truth be told, I probably didn't try enough desserts.

That leads me to my New Year's resolution for 2008. At every restaurant I visit I will save room to sample the dessert menu.

I'm not sure how my resolution to eat more dessert is going to jive with my resolution to lose weight, but I guess I'll figure that out later. Right now I've got a restaurant to visit.

Happy New Year!

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