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Two Takes on Bamboo Izakaya; Praise for Xico

What the critics are loving and hating these past two weeks.

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We got caught up on our reading over the weekend, and rounded up some helpful reviews from the professional eaters around town.

First up is Portland Monthly's Karen Brooks, who reviews Xico, declaring it "has become the Latin equivalent of Langbaan, Nodoguro, and Kachka — local restaurants that break open old cuisines in new ways." She calls out the amaranth-stuffed chiles rellenos, Jalisco-style posole, and goat barbacoa slow-roasted in a dried avocado leaf.

She also spotlights 21 of her favorite dishes of 2014. There are comfort foods like rotisserie chicken at Olympic Provisions and cheddar-egg biscuits at Milk Glass Market, plus more adventurous bites that you might have overlooked (but she never does). The Som-O salad at Paadee combines grapefruit and grilled praws "whirling with Thai attitude." The candied tomato and anise pastry roll at Maurice gets the "crazy, jaw-dropping, utterly addictive pastry award of the year."

PoMo's Benjamin Tepler stops in at Bamboo Izakaya, where  the "grill is the heart and soul" of the place. The salted mackerel for two is "a standout," as well as the deep-fried headcheese tonkatsu and coconut-kaffir braised pork cheeks in a thick stew.

Portland Mercury's Andrea Damewood also tries out Bamboo Izakaya's "drinking food gold." The very hands-on salted mackerel, headcheese tonkatsu and braised pork cheeks also end up on her must-order list, as well as the five-spice ribs, grilled pork belly, and okra. The only missteps, she says, are the non-okra veggie dishes and the desserts.

She also rounds up five worthy hot pot places and helpfully educates the uninitiated on how to order. Chongqing is the newest but "unreservedly the best" with the "spiciest broth in town."

Clearly Asian food is on everyone's mind. Michael Russell at The Oregonian reviews Pono Farm Soul Kitchen, giving the pan-Asian spot two stars. "I like Soul Kitchen's something-for-everyone scrappiness, chaotic as it might be," he writes. Dishes built on Pono Farm's luxe meats rank highest, including sirloin tartare, a juicy grilled pork chop , and dry-aged wagyu steaks.

Willamette Week revisits some previously disappointing dishes and finds many have improved, which means places you might have written off likely deserve a second look. Getting props for solid improvement are BTU Brasserie, Trifecta and Reverend's BBQ, where the ribs have had a "100 percent turnaround." And Eb and Bean makes a strong comeback. The all-local, all-natural frozen yogurt has "bettered everything in the past six months."  The yogurt is more flavorful, and the toppings more interesting, including "a cold-brew coffee and bourbon sauce that, along with whipped cream, butterscotch crumbles and cocoa-rich froyo, made a late push toward being one of our favorite desserts of the year."

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