Following fast on the heels of Portland Monthly's juicy restaurant of the year and chef of the year announcements last week, the latest issue of Willamette Week drops today with its highly anticipated 2014 Restaurant Guide tucked inside. And the answer to the big question is: Kachka.
The six-month-old zakuski joint earned the weekly's restaurant of the year nod for its updated take on Russian home-cooking. It looks perfectly unassuming from the outside, but inside it's a charming wonderland of pickled beets, tiny fish, pungent horseradish, and silky-chewy dumplings slathered in rich, melting sour cream. It is, in short, impossible not to fall in love with it.
"Kachka, our 2014 Restaurant of the Year, achieves an unlikely and intoxicating balance. It is sentimentally nostalgic and winkingly modern, refined in palate but boisterously casual in spirit. Chef Bonnie Morales has brought years of culinary training to bear on meals that have been cooked at home by generations of babushkas."
For the past few days, the weekly has been releasing its runners-up. If you missed it, Old Salt Marketplace, a relative old-timer that opened in May 2013, earned the number 2 spot for its impressively earnest dedication to the pasture-to-table movement.
"Other Portland restaurants have in-house butchery, of course, but Old Salt is the only one that relies exclusively on whole-animal butchery, slicing every steak, sausage and jerky stick sold from a weekly delivery of two cows and three to four pigs purchased directly from ranchers."
Rolling in at No. 3 is 14-month-old Ataula, who's chef-owner Jose Chesa just earned Portland Monthly's nod as chef of the year, and Eater's nod last year. The convivial, creative tapas joint secured its spot for its modern spin on tradition.
"The dishes then and now hew closely to the tradition of Spanish tapas—small bites originally offered with wine—but updated to take advantage of modern culinary science and technology. I’ve learned, for example, that Chesa is a big fan of the slow-cooking technique known as sous-vide, which is how he manages to give his adaptation of the classic patatas bravas a literal melt-in-your-mouth quality. The time and effort to present a humble potato dish speaks volumes."
American Local is a sleeper hit at No. 4. Opened in January 2014, the Division Street tavern is praised for taking the izakaya-style drinking food approach and applying it to a melting pot of American food.
"The American Local’s America is everywhere and nowhere at once, the stacked-up mishmash of cultures that has come to define us as a people. Their herb-and-sheep’s-milk frybread draws on the countrysides of Scotland, France and Arizona. The double-stacked, secret-sauced hamburger was inspired loosely by the In-N-Out Double-Double. The restaurant’s staple Brussels sprouts — which just rejoined the menu at the end of September — are a Euro-Asian-Mexican traffic jam spiced up with miso aioli and pickled jalapeño."
Coming in at No. 5 is a bar. No wait it's a restaurant. Or is it a resto-bar? Willamette Week deems Naomi Pomeroy and Kyle Webster's 15-month-old Expatriate a crossover, one of a growing trend and perhaps the most successful.
"Expatriate is the best of this crossover crop. Opened by celebuchef Naomi Pomeroy and her bartender husband, Kyle Webster, it’s an excellent tavern, so much so that it made our list of the five best new bars in town. It now also makes our list of favorite new restaurants."