Portland locals generally care more about where to snowboard than where to eat, but a recent run of openings has them putting aside their gear. Rivers Restaurant, at the boutique Avalon Hotel & Spa (0470 S.W. Hamilton Ct.; 503-802-5850), sits on the Willamette River's bike path. Instead of watching cyclists, I pay attention to chef Rolland Wesen, who prepares tasty Northwestern food, like fire pot, a spicy seafood stew served in a skillet. Wesen's wife, Claudine Pépin (daughter of master cook Jacques), is the restaurant's managerand a new Portland celebrity.
At Park Kitchen (422 N.W. 8th Ave.; 503-223-PARK), in the converted-warehouse Pearl district, diners can pick up bocce balls at the bar for the court across the street. Chef Scott Dolich cooks Mediterranean-inspired dishes like pappardelle with fork-tender braised lamb and sublime lemon bread pudding. My other favorite desserts are out in the southeastern quadrant at the adorable Pix Pâtisserie (3402 S.E. Division St.; 503-232-4407). Cheryl Wakerhauser makes delectable éclairs as well as confections like Amélieorange crème brûlée layered with chocolate mousse and Cointreau cake. The space is done up like an old candy store, and hollowed-out old books hold menus. Casanis (1639 N.W. Glisan St.; 503-546-1696) is another kind of classic; it's a bistro that's French in style, substance and ownership, with standards like pâté de maison and rabbit stew.
Portland has a quirky side, too. At Navarre (10 N.E. 28th Ave.; 503-232-3555) diners are given pencils to check off small or large portions of menu items. The food is nontraditional Spanish, mixing and matching small plates like pumpkin fritters with well-priced wines. Voodoo Doughnut (22 S.W. 3rdAve.; 503-241-4704) is the brainchild of two hipsters. Club kids and moms line up at 10 p.m., when the place opens, for everything from cinnamon crullers to the Voodooa doughnut doll with a pretzel stick instead of a pin. The most talked-about meals in Portland are the family suppers hosted by Michael Hebb and Naomi Pomeroy at his Ripe Catering space (2240 N. Interstate Ave.; 503-493-9500). Hebb keeps insiders apprised of upcoming dinner dates via e-mail, then serves 45 to 50 diners global dishes, like roast wild salmon with Israeli couscous, family-style at long tables. Payment is by the honor system. I've heard he's bringing his suppers to New York City in the spring.