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Portland's Professional Eaters Reveal Their Best Meals of 2014

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As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. This year, we asked the group eight questions running the gamut from meal of the year to top restaurant newcomers, and we'll be rolling out their expert opinions all week long. Responses are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. Readers, please do add your survey answers in the comments.


What was your single best meal in 2014?

Chris Angelus, founder of Portland Food Adventures and Right at the Fork podcasts

I'm going to take the politically correct route and exclude all PFA events, because they are always my favorites.  And I assume Barcelona doesn't count. That said, here on the home front, Adam Higgs's Wyatt Earp pop-up at Acadia served the largest and tastiest whole fish I've ever had, and then he followed that up with a Flintstones-sized perfectly cooked bone-in roast — rare and succulent. I don't usually remember dishes and presentations for this long afterward, but that dinner doesn't require revisiting Instagram.

Samantha Bakall, restaurant reporter, The Oregonian

It's not in Portland, but my No. 1 meal in 2014 was at Paul Kahan's Nico. I flew home to Chicago to have dinner there with some old friends and I've been thinking about doing it again.

Byron Beck, editor, GoLocalPDX

It was on July 24 at a pre-IPNC dinner at Sokol Blosser Winery. The meal featured new items from John Gorham's soon-to-open Mediterranean Exploration Company. The meal started with seared foie gras with roasted peaches followed by fattoush salad with heirloom tomatoes. After those magnificent dishes we were treated to morcilla with marinated summer peppers, cucumber soup with quick cured salmon, kobe ribeye roast with corn relish and date olive oil cake with honey yogurt. Each course was paired with wines from the valley. It was one of the best meals of my life.

Karen Brooks, book author; food editor and restaurant critic for Portland Monthly

Two meals tied for dropping my fork: Langbaan's first Thai tasting-menu dinner in February. The parade of surprises unfolding on ever-changing plates: crushed, dried baby snakehead fish over sweet coconut rice; a supreme roasted duck broth soup; herb-cloaked, coconut-milk-poached lobster and fresh rambutan salad; a startling black sesame dumpling soup born in Bangkok's Chinatown.  My food-loving friend Gary Okazaki and I darted looks that said: "This is big."

But I was also equally struck by a meal in November. I wanted to show off Portland to a visiting friend from New York, and we bolted right from the airport to Le Pigeon. In one evening, Gabriel Rucker screeched from Thailand to Italy to France to his own flavor-riffing mind, each dish its own universe of excitement. An intensity of frog legs, Thai eggplant and citrus sausage was followed by dead-perfect tagliatelle mingled with guinea fowl ragu and parmesan rind "croutons," and then, the DNA of Paris — escargot positively beaming with garlic, bone marrow and parsley. But the night belonged to a freewheeling "Peking duck break" paired with chunky shards of burnt orange marmalade, a spicy pool of duck liver sauce off to the side, and somewhere in there, the fumes of coffee and chilies. Nine years into his tenure at Le Pigeon, Rucker is still bringing on the noise and the funk. It's inspiring.

Brett Burmeister, blogger, Food Carts Portland

Lollipop chicken from Mama Chow's Kitchen. A real treat in a city with some great chicken wing options.

Liz Crain, author "Food Lover's Guide to Portland" and "Toro Bravo" cookbook

I got my kitchen remodeled by my good friends at St. Johns Design Build this summer/fall. It was completed just before for my birthday in November, so I had a big party to celebrate both. Friends and I cooked all kinds of Ethiopian food. I topped a  bunch of platters with homemade injera that I bought from Merkato and Awash on MLK and put big scoops of the berbere collards, lentils and split pea flour stew on them. My friend Alem Gebrehiwot, owner of Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant, gave me the recipe for my favorite cocktail there — the Greenfire Kiss — as well as a big jug of his ginger juice to make them with. I like to throw a big party and cook a different cuisine every year for my birthday, but this one was so good it might just have to be repeated. And my house smelled so incredible I considered eating my pillows. For a week.

Andrea Damewood, restaurant critic, Portland Mercury

Probably at Nodoguro, when Chef Ryan Roadhouse riffed on dishes from Haruki Murakami. He's one of my favorite authors, Japanese is probably my favorite cuisine. Sitting there with my man as course after delicious course came to the table while I drank a small bottle of sake ... it was so much fun.

Erin De Jesus, news and reports, Eater

Pok Pok has become one of those restaurants where it's easy to fall into a rut: I usually end up taking an out-of-towner who's specifically requested the trip, complete with their "must-order" list in hand (lots of wings, lots of papaya pok pok). But a visit this summer (with yes, an out-of-towner) reminded me of why the restaurant has earned all its accolades. Between the two of us, we ordered upwards of 12 dishes, affably coursed out by our server, hitting the finer points of the menu that I'd been sinfully passing over: a grilled Vietnamese sausage and a catfish dish of Cha Ca La Vong particularly stand out. FWIW, my second-best meal of the year most likely took place at Ataula, which somehow becomes busier and more energetic and better every time I go. The third-best meal was all those Pok Pok leftovers, eaten the next day.

Allison Jones, writer, Portland Monthly

A 10-person family dinner in Levant's cozy back room. Their $55/person family-style tasting menu is everything I wanted Levant to be when it opened. It took a while for the restaurant to find its bearings, but plate after plate of fresh and flavorful falafel, herby citrus salads, hummus laden with duck livers, perfect pickles, red lentil kibbeh, platters of lamb, and delicate pistachio halvah desserts made me a believer.

Emily McIntyre, coffee and beverages writer

Nong's. Straightforward, simple, brilliant.

Kerry Newberry, food and travel writer; wine editor at SIP Northwest

DaNet made me swoon. The dramatic candlelight, the Russian literature, the zakuski! And who knew sauerkraut soup could taste so soulful? The night I went, there was a moment when you could see chef Vitaly Paley shaving black truffles by candlelight — slivers soaring from plate to plate to top the fourth course of salmon coulibiac. The room was filled with dancing conversations and Slavic hip-hop. It was enchanting.

Gary Okazaki, professional glutton (aka Gary the Foodie)

In Portland, my favorite meals of the year included Le Pigeon's Chinese pop-up called Broccoli Knuckle; Castagna (Justin Woodward is one of the most talented young chefs in the USA); sushi omakase at Nodoguro; and my first Factotum pop-up. But my single favorite Portland meal of the year was the opening night at Langbaan in mid-February. The food was bold and intricate. An added benefit was sharing the meal with a dear, dear friend.

I have two overall favorite meals of the year. The first was an evocative meal at Tokyo's Quintessence. The second was a collaboration dinner with Christian Bau (of Schloss Berg in Germany) and Matthew Kirkley at Chicago's L2O. It was Chef Bau's first time cooking on US soil, and his dishes were mind-blowing and stunning. The meal brings bittersweet memories for me since L2O is closing on December 31st, but I am grateful my final meal at L2O will be the Bau/Kirkley dinner.

Michael Russell, restaurant critic and reporter, The Oregonian

I had many outstanding dishes from Kachka, Ataula, Holdfast, Nodoguro, and Le Pigeon this year. But my single best meal was probably the late-spring dinner at Langbaan that I wrote about in our 2014 Restaurant of the Year story. Near the end of the 12-course meal, chef Rassamee Ruaysuntia handed over a vibrant, turmeric-yellow curry swimming with clams and mussels and finished with a surprising note of jackfruit. Yum.

Peter Szymczak, writer, Oregon Wine Press and SIP Northwest

Five-course tasting menu at Le Pigeon with wine pairings that illuminated, almost outshone, the food. It was a birthday dinner splurge, totally worth it.

Mike Thelin, Feast Portland co-founder

Kachka. Ordered just about everything with three friends, and couldn't stop talking about it for a week.

Drew Tyson, writer and photographer

Nodoguro's Ghibli themed dinner

Michael Zusman, cookbook author, restaurant critic (and judge)

Gotta get out of town and vote for my dinner at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. From the menu here, we can infer that French-Canadians have developed an immunity to cholesterol. There's a whole section devoted to foie gras. I ordered plogue à  Champlain (aka Pure Wretched Excess) as my main course: buckwheat pancake, sliced potato, bacon, cheese, foie, egg and maple syrup sauce. This followed a bison tongue appetizer (sauce of cooking jus, butter, capers, carrots, sliced gherkins, herbs, cream, mustard, and, I think, magical deliciousness dust). Dessert shoved me right over the edge: maple pouding chômeur, a Quebecois classic of baked to order maple cake soaked in maple syrup. I can hardly wait to go back there.

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