CHAMPCAR/CART: Kika's guide to dining in Portland

Paley's Place ( 1999 Restaurant of the Year ) 1204 N.W. 21st Ave. (503) 243-2403 . The Paleys fell in love again ... with Portland. They bailed out of New York and set up their dream shop on Northwest 21st Avenue. But the tiny austere space...

Paley's Place ( 1999 Restaurant of the Year ) 1204 N.W. 21st Ave. (503) 243-2403 . The Paleys fell in love again ... with Portland. They bailed out of New York and set up their dream shop on Northwest 21st Avenue. But the tiny austere space stifled Kimberly's warm presence. With a recent remodel, the restaurant doubled in size to 16 tables, creating an ambience of relaxed chic to match the kitchen's down-home sophistication while redefining the intimate dining experience. People remember meals here. They can recount details months later, much in the way that sports enthusiasts replay the key moments of a big game. It's not any one particular thing but rather the way this Northwest bistro strikes all the right notes: accomplished food, elegantly yet casually presented in a place so personal, unpretentious and attentive to detail that it's easy to forget you're in a restaurant, not someone's dining room. From the handcrafted morsel sent out to greet you to the homemade chocolates that arrive with the hill? it's easy to feel the table has been set just for you. Regulars thrive on fantastic house-smoked steaks and plump steamed mussels eaten between bites of hand-cut fries. Chicken is a menu staple, sometimes arriving with smashing little spaetzle dumplings. Paparadelle noodles can show up with braised rabbit sauce with a sweet hint of balsamic vinegar: pure, earthy pleasures. Part of that experience is the conclusion of a meal: Pastry chef Jennifer Flanagan is proving to be Portland's - best dessert chef. You may wish to go no further than the outrageous signatures: dreamy crème brulée or a wicked soufflé cake running rivulets of thick, hot chocolate. But then you'd miss Flanagan's own changing specialties, from a towering banana cream pie on a thick chocolate platform to a startling molasses ice cream. Through it all, Kimberly is the gracious hostess, dropping smiles and trusty wine recommendations. She sets they style here, from the dinner-party gestalt to the look of the dinning room, with its big French cafe posters and charming, hand- painted plates. "My mission is to have every person walk out the door happy," she says, explaining her need to constantly redefine service. At a recent staff meeting, she read the dictionary's definition of elegance":"refined, tasteful beautiful of manner, form or style." There's another way to describe elegance. It's called Paley's Place.

Genoa (Rated # 1 for Portland food and service - American Express Top Restaurants). 2832 S.E. Belmont St. Phone: (503) 238-1464 . CUISINE: Authentic and regional Italian, rigorously explored. For 28 amazing years, Genoa has maintained an elevated spot among Portland restaurants through various owner and chef changes -- and for good reason. The kitchen takes food seriously without being self-important or fussy. You'll find new flavors in a meal that spins out over several hours -- and marvel at many of them. It's a lot of food and a dining room with not much else to focus on. Skip lunch and get ready for a memorable evening. ATMOSPHERE: In a small, dark dining room, an intelligent wait staff recites the night's menu. Tones are hushed; perhaps diners are quietly worshipping the food before them. A back sitting room offers living-room comfort for desserts or smokes. MUST-HAVE DISHES: The menu changes too often to make many recommendations, but some courses are legendary. The returning bagna cauda is still classic: a warm fondue of cream, anchovies and garlic for dunking vegetables and breadsticks. The pasta course is a high point, including a recent ravioli filled with goat cheese, Gruyere and sage. Entrees usually include a delicious fish, fowl or meat option, perhaps thin veal medallions glazed with a compote of paper-thin artichoke slices. From the core dessert list, look for the signature boccone dolce, a heaping construction of meringue layers, whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Castagna ( Restaurant of the Year 2000 - By Bob Hicks, of The Oregonian.) 1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Bet. 17th & 18th Aves. Phone 503-231-7373. It's not exactly " Where's Waldo," but for the past year one of the hottest new dinner spots in town has been playing a game of hide-and-seek. Around the 1700 block on lower South east Hawthorne Boulevard, a car will slow down, crawl to the next intersection, continue at its poky pace for two or three blocks, turn around and start again. Finally the passengers will spot what they've been seeking crisp and inconspicuous above the indented doorway of 1752, a small sign that says "Castagna." (it means "chestnut" in Italian) is the natural outgrowth of their private and Professional lives -- a place where their tastes mingle and merge. Welcome to Diner 2000's Restaurant of the Year -- if you can find it. "We're not trying to be hidden away," chef and co-owner Kevin Gibson says wryly. But the message has come through."I think we're giving in," says Monique Siu, Castagna's CO-owner and Gibson's wife. "We might be putting up a bigger sign." Siu pauses, slightly pained at the thought of losing her dignified but too-shy sign. "I like the subtlety of it," she adds wistfully .Exactly. Subtlety, a warmth rising from beautiful coolness, is what Castagna is all about. The cooking is just as clean and elegantly uncontrived. No tricks. Just fine seasonal ingredients (mostly organic and locally grown) and rigorous preparation: a rabbit hindquarter braised with wine, mustard and tarragon, for instance. Or a pair of small, exquisitely grilled quail. Or a beautifully sautéed pork chop served with buttered leeks, potatoes and Calvados sauce'. Or a perfect sweet-sour Meyer lemon tart with creme chantilly. ."I'm really happy that everything we serve is made here," Gibson says. "The only cans we open are olive oil."Siu and Gibson both have classical sensibilities. "We both like French and Italian food, and we're both purists in a way," Siu says. "I like the individual flavors on the plate to be clean and harmonious. Some things are very complex, like the wine sauce on the lamb. But you don't want things to lose their individual focus."

COUVRON (Portland's most exclusive -- and in some ways its best -- restaurant) 1126 S.W. 18th Ave., Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/225-1844. ( Over $35) French "Sensationally creative. Haute cuisine." Husband and wife team Anthony Demes and Maura Jarach preside nightly over their 32 seat jewel-like restaurant which offers a setting that is reminiscent of the intimate European elegance found in a small French inn. Diners bask in candlelight and enjoy classical music while savoring "revelations for the eye and mouth." "Intensely French, with a globe-trotting range of ingredients," Chef Demes acquires only the best products available. Chef Anthony Demes's signature dishes include a honey-glazed Oregon duck breast with curry and anise, a pan-roasted foie gras with summer truffles and diced organic root vegetables in a red wine sauce, a thyme-roasted Alaskan halibut, and sautéed salmon mignon on a chiffonade potato cake with stewed leeks. The Grand Marnier soufflé is otherworldly. About eight months ago Couvron switched entirely to prix fixe dinners: $65 for the seven-course vegetarian dinner, $75 for the seven-course regular dinner, which includes an option of either seafood or meat on two courses, and $95 for a nine-course chef's grand menu, which must be ordered by everyone at the table. You simply trust Demes and go for it. The payoff is an outstanding meal graced with the perfect pacing that synchronization of courses provides. Reservations essential. http://www.couvron.com/

PAZZO 627 S.W. Washington St.. Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA.Phone: 503/228-1515 ( $25 to $35) Northern Italian cuisine. Real Italian cooking -- much of it great. Chef Kenny Giambalvo .The aromas of roasted garlic and wood smoke greet patrons of the bustling, street-level dining room of the Hotel Vintage Plaza. Pazzo's frequently changing menu relies on deceptively simple new Italian cuisine-pastas, risottos, and grilled meats, fish, and poultry. Try the lamb chops with fennel and the artichoke risotto if they're being prepared. The decor is a mix of dark wood, terra-cotta, checkered tablecloths, and dangling Parma hams. MUST-HAVE DISHES: The menu changes seasonally, so recommendations are difficult. But to get the flavor, the kitchen turns out a fine beef carpaccio with arugula and Parmesan -- paper-thin slices of filet, topped with peppery greens and a drizzle of bright olive oil. Hand-rolled pastas can be extraordinary -- perhaps silky, squash-filled pockets with brown butter and sage. Grilled fish can be a highlight here, including moist salmon atop a savory mass of cabbage, little onions and roasted potatoes. Meat dishes are solid, too, prepared simply with deep flavors. Expensive (but solid) wine list and noise, noise, noise. Reservations essential.

Higgins 1239 SW Broadway. (503) 222-9070 . CUISINE: Northwest improvisational: local ingredients, flavors that play off one another like good jazz. How important is space to a restaurant's success? Ask Greg Higgins, who runs one of the best places in town. Higgins' two interconnected dining rooms step down from a small street-level lobby that also leads to the partly open kitchen and back to a dark, clubby and very popular bar. Crowded and noisy, the dining rooms have such an efficient flow that they offer a seemingly impossible combination: buzz and intimacy. You get the invigorating feel of a busy public space, but also a sense of comforting privacy: Each table, miraculously, feels far from the madding crowd. It's an ideal atmosphere for a downtown hot spot (Higgins is big on power lunching) and it sets the table for a creative and very good menu that truly shines in the way it treats vegetables -- both as vegetarian plates and as sides or settings for meat dishes. Higgins is an obsessive experimenter with an apparently natural sense for the ways flavors will combine. Even when you don't like one of his experiments --and most of the time you will -- you'll like the urge that got him there. Where else, for instance, are you likely to encounter a plate of rigatoni with grilled dandelions and endives, alder-smoked bacon and feta cheese? MUST-HAVE DISHES: Menu changes frequently, but shellfish and combination salads are almost always winners. Wild or unusual greens, heirloom potatoes, root vegetables, chutneys, polentas, chiles and the like are frequent visitors to the menu. REASON TO GO: Higgins is a leader in the organic and fresh foods revolution, and the level of cooking is consistently high. A good share of the menu is always vegetarian-friendly. The place has perhaps the best beer list in town, with a beer steward and a knockout selection of Belgians. Wine list is good and reasonably priced, too.

Wildwood ( 1998 Northwest chef of the year ) 1221 N.W. 21st Ave. (503) 248-9663. Cory Schreiber, co-winner of the James Beard title as 1998 Northwest chef of the year, has created an impressive local landmark, a top-level restaurant that's consistently exciting every night at dinner, six days a week at lunch and maybe particularly at brunch. Schreiber carefully assembles his dishes, producing visual and seasoning balances that rarely seem overdone. He chooses from a wide range of influences and ingredients-- but doesn't choose too many. As a result, Wildwood can draw people from across town for Muscovy duck in the dining room, a dazzling burger in the bar or brioche French toast at brunch. CUISINE: Scheiber sets off on his own version of New Northwest, with a masterful management of his wood-burning oven. The menu is creative and skillfully managed, even though changing on a daily basis, and a Northwesterner will recognize lots of local friends. MUST-HAVE DISHES: The wood-oven roasted mussels and clams are mandatory, and the thin-crust pizzas can fill a meal, an appetizer or a slow afternoon. The menu changes constantly, but watch closely for Schreiber's treatment of local fish, notably salmon, sturgeon or Alaskan halibut. And if you run into the roast quail, fly to it.

Cafe des Amis 1987 N.W. Kearney St.; 503-295-6487. Cuisine: French and fresh Northwest. High-quality cooking, service, wines. Caf des Amis has quiet class. Like Old Faithful, Dennis Baker's tucked-away bistro regularly delivers the goods: fine, artistically prepared food in an understated, melodious atmosphere. Casually elevated and resolutely untrendy, this longtime Portland favorite is a place where grown-ups go to eat and drink, and where their children should aspire. Atmosphere: Spare and quietly elegant. Servers are friendly and efficient, know the food and know the wines. Ask them. Must-have dishes: Exquisite smoked mushroom ravioli, buttery grilled scallops, some of the best soups in town. Beef fillet is legendary for its rich port garlic sauce.

Zefiro 500 N.W. 21st Ave., Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA Phone: (503) 226-3394. ( Over $35 ). CUISINE: Primarily Mediterranean, with a few detours to India, Asia and Latin America. There's something about being at Zefiro. It's an instant good time: sophistication without the nose, elegant minimalism without the flash and usually jammed with an independent crowd that's willing to define itself beyond the Northwest. The kitchen's global adventures reflect the scene -- fun with finesse. Every accessory here is sharp, and that goes from the informed servers wearing ties as cool as the plates to lighting carefully chosen for intimate flattery. Blond floors, pale green walls, lots of windows, and architectural lighting fixtures set the mood at Zefiro, where clarity and attractive detail are the thematic touchstones of the dining room and kitchen. The ever-changing menu combines Southeast Asian and Mediterranean elements with gratifying results. Try the oysters with Thai sauce or any of the grilled fish dishes; the Caesar salad is justly popular. This is a place to see and be seen. MUST-HAVE DISHES: The perfect three-course meal for two would be several starters to share, the vaunted Caesar salad for two, or one of the inventive composed salads with ingredients themed to a cuisine, and two desserts, including a homemade ice cream. This is one of the few places that makes first-rate gnocchi dumplings. Seared rare ahi tuna, a menu mainstay, is exemplary. There are no core entrees, so recommendations are difficult, but at their best you'll find the likes of grilled leg of venison, the blood of the meat and the winy marinade forming a sauce of heady strength: It's a dish that takes well to the rich potato gratin on the side. Reservations essential.

Assaggio 7742 S.E. 13th Ave., East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/232-6151. ($15 to $25 ) Italian cuisine. In an age of canned music it's pleasant to enter a restaurant and hear Maria Callas singing opera arias. But, then, everything about this Sellwood trattoria (food, decor, price) is extraordinarily pleasant. It's hard to find a place cozier or more romantic than this casual pasta palace. The Italian cooking is perhaps the most authentic in Portland, and many dishes are available as family-style samplers. Farfalle, fusilli, penne, and spaghetti dishes are properly cooked al dente and not oversauced. For starters try the salad sampler or any of the bruschette (grilled garlic bread with various toppings). Must-have dishes: Among recent options have been a terrific fagioli, a starter of chilled runner beans, mushrooms and arugula with shaved grana cheese; a spicy spaghetti alla putanesca that blends olives, capers, garlic, olive oil, tomato, and, if you want them, a wallop of anchovies; and penne d'inverno, pasta tubes with a sauce of chard, wild mushrooms, garlic, pepper and cream. An excellent wine cellar favors Italian vintages. The wine list has some tremendous, hard-to-find Italian bottles, but every evening also features a sturdy wine-of-the-day priced in the teens. The interior, painted in a burnt-sienna shade and accented with classical architectural motifs, lovingly evokes Italy. Takes no reservations, and the waits can be looooong.

The Heathman 1001 SW Broadway , Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/241-4100 ( $25 to $35 ). CUISINE: Fundamentally French, with influences from the Northwest to Asia to Italy. The Heathman In Portland's big-deal, big-celebrity hotel, Chef Philippe Boulot, the French-trained former head chef at New York's Mark Hotel, revels in the fresh fish, game, wild mushrooms, and other ingredients of the Northwest. His menu changes with the season and may include seared ahi tuna wrapped in locally cured prosciutto and served with Oregon-truffle risotto; Normandy-style braised rabbit in apple cider and mustard sauce, served with sage white-wine gnocchi; or roasted pesto salmon with red onion-caper relish. He's also brought his wife, Susan Boulot, who does terrific desserts. The dining room, scented with wood smoke and adorned with Andy Warhol prints, is a favorite for special occasions.

3 Doors Down Cafe 1429 SE 37th Ave. Phone: 503/236-6886 CUISINE: Creative Italian, con gusto. Every neighborhood should be so lucky to have a place like this: full-flavored food and eclectic wines served in a casual spot firmly rooted in the concept of the local bistro. No reservations are taken. But if you put your name on the list and have a cell phone, you can browse Powell's around the corner and the cafe will call when your table is ready. MUST-HAVE DISHES: Baked clams with wine, herbs and a Parmesan glaze; penne with vodka sauce (rich with a tomato cream sauce touched with chili); freshly made ravioli, stuffed with shallots, mascarpone, ricotta and frise greens; pan-roasted halibut, a marvelous melange of onions, tomato, fennel and potato sticks afloat in a saffron and lemon sauce; one of best versions of tiramisu around.

Caffe Mingo 807 N.W. 21st Ave. Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/226-4646 CUISINE: Urban Italian bistro. Caffe Mingo : Small, warm and always bopping, Mingo manages to be one of Portland's best restaurants even though the food is more good than spectacular. It's a great hangout, whether you're pulling up a stool at the counter for a plate of pasta, sitting at the centralized communal table, peeking into the fragrant kitchen with its big baskets of bright tomatoes or bantering with the staff. In an age when Italian menus are more concerned with having the right buzzwords than the best ingredients, it's refreshing to find a kitchen moved more by integrity than fashion. Unfortunately, the virtues here have been discovered, so expect to wait your turn. MUST-HAVE DISHES: Pasta rules here, from penne with moist shreds of pungent, earthy beef braised in chianti to potato ravioli layered like lasagna and baked to a creamy, crusty mass; the daily risotto is nicely balanced, and additions like wilted greens and pancetta add some complexity. For dessert, the chocolate mousse cake has just the right touch of hedonism.

ATWATER'S 111 S.W. 5th Ave., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/275-3600. (Over $35) American. Perched on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower, Atwater's has an outstanding view of the Willamette River, the Cascade Range, and the city's skyline. The cuisine is American but relies almost exclusively on ingredients indigenous to the Northwest-depending on the season everything from fresh seafood (ahi, Pacific salmon, Dungeness crab, sturgeon) to chicken and game. An 18,000-bottle enclosed wine cellar with labels from every wine-producing region in the world is a prominent feature of the dining room. Dansk linens, silver cutlery, crystal glasses, and an orchid on every table lend a touch of elegance. Musicians perform in the adjoining bar from Wednesday to Saturday. Reservations essential. http://www.atwaters.com/

PLAINFIELD'S MAYUR (This is one of the few Indian restaurants in North America to win an award from Wine Spectator magazine).852 S.W. 21st Ave, Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/223-2995. ($15 to $25) . Portland's finest Indian cuisine is served in a Victorian house amid quietly elegant surroundings. The tomato-curry soup and vegetarian dishes such as dahi wadi (crispy fried lentil croquettes) and basmati rice biryani (with silverleaf) are popular. Other specialties include lobster in brown onion sauce and lamb shanks in sandalwood sauce. For bread, try the garlic nan. This ground-breaking Indian restaurant was one of the first to go beyond simple cafe cuisine to offer elaborate dishes in a royal setting. Its distinctive dishes were created in what years ago was Portland's first authentic tandoori oven. Early in the '90s, the kitchen seemed to loose its direction and service took a turn for the snooty. But Plainfield's is on the upswing again. Dishes are focused and packed with flavor (expensive ones at that), and all traces of snobbery have vanished. MUST-HAVE DISHES: Starters of dahi wada, fried lentil balls with a tangy ginger-yogurt sauce, and vegetarian samosas, greaseless fried pastries stocked with potato and spices; light and chewy naan bread; scallops in spicy cream sauce; prawns in saffron and almond sauce; ginger-scented tandoori rack of lamb; creamy spiced okra; mango cheesecake; and rose-scented ice cream.

THE RINGSIDE (Famous for beef for more than 50 years )2165 N.W. Burnside St., Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/223-1513. ( $25 to $35 )American. If you're in the mood for a juicy steak, head for this Portland institution without further ado. There are other things on the menu, but the Ringside has been famous for beef for more than 50 years. The onion rings, made with Walla Walla sweets, are equally renowned. Reservations essential.

SAIGON KITCHEN 835 N.E. Broadway, East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/281-3669. ( Under $15).Thai, Vietnamese. Consistently good Vietnamese and Thai food and friendly service have made Saigon Kitchen a neighborhood favorite. Fried salted calamari and fiery chili noodles with prawns or chicken are delectable standouts on the wide-ranging menu. The decor is no-nonsense diner, but don't let that deter you.

ABOU KARIM 221 S.W. Pine St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/223-5058. (Under $15) Lebanese cuisine. More than half the menu is vegetarian, but the leg of lamb served on a bed of rice with lentil soup or a full salad is a favorite here. Health-conscious diners will find a special menu of meals low in saturated fats, and there is an outside area for dining in summer. A few plants and a Lebanese sword or two hanging on the wall are the only nods to atmosphere.

ALEXIS 215 W. Burnside St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA, Phone: 503/224-8577. ( $15 to $25) Greek cuisine. The Mediterranean decor here consists only of white walls and basic furnishings, but the authentic Greek flavor keeps the crowds coming for kalamarakia (deep-fried squid served with tzatziki, a yogurt dip), horiatiki (a Greek salad combination with feta cheese and Kalamata olives), and other traditional dishes. If you have trouble making up your mind, the gigantic Alexis platter includes a little of everything.

BANGKOK KITCHEN 2534 S.E. Belmont St., East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/236-7349. (under $ 15) Thai cuisine. Chef-owner Srichan Miller juggles the lime, cilantro, coconut milk, lemongrass, curry, and hot peppers of classic Thai cuisine with virtuosity. Pay no attention to the '60s diner decor, and be sure to try one of the noodle dishes-the tender rice-stick noodles with shrimp, egg, fresh mint, chilies, and coconut are memorable. Order your dishes mild or medium-hot unless you have an asbestos tongue, and don't forget the cold Singha beer. No credit cards. Closed Sun.-Mon. No lunch Sat. MUST-HAVE DISHES: To start, piquant steamed or grilled mussels; prawn or chicken satays with perfect peanut sauce. Later, pad thai noodles (always), hot-and-sour coconut soup (ditto); prawns with chili sauce to finish the job.

BIMA RESTAURANT AND BAR 1338 N.W. Hoyt St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/241-3465. ( $25 to $35) CUISINE: Bistro on the bayou, with influences from the Caribbean and Deep South. A one-time factory, with impossibly high ceilings and concrete walls, now is one of the Pearl District's most romantic restaurants, with warm wood trim, low lighting and the enticing glow of candles in hurricane shades. Oddly, the striking decor seems both rough and chic. The cuisine takes its cue from the gulf coast of Mexico, the southern United States, and the Caribbean. Pecan-crusted catfish, assorted fish and meat skewers, fish tacos, and luscious ribs are some of the specialties. MUST-HAVE DISHES: Grilled skewers of foresty portobello mushrooms, spicy baby squid or tender lamb with jalapeo mint jelly, served with creamy grits or slightly lumpy mashed potatoes; daily specials of chewy grilled pizza, sometimes topped with fiery peppers and grilled chicken; perfectly crisp black bean empanadas; pecan-crusted catfish with baked triangles of chipotle pepper-spiked grits; creamy Mexican chocolate pudding.

DAN & LOUIS'S OYSTER BAR 208 S.W. Ankeny St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/227-5906. ( Under $15) Seafood . Oysters here come fried, stewed, or on the half shell. Crab stew-virtually impossible to find elsewhere in town-is also a specialty. Founder Louis Wachsmuth, who started his restaurant in 1907, was an avid collector of steins, plates, and marine art. The collection has grown over the years to fill beams, nooks, crannies, and nearly every inch of wall.

ESPARZA'S TEX-MEX CAFE 2725 S.E. Ankeny St., at S.E. 28th Ave., East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA Phone: 503/234-7909. ( $15 to $25 ) Southwestern Cuisine. Be prepared for south-of-the-border craziness at this beloved local eatery. Wild West kitsch festoons the walls, but it isn't any wilder than some of the entrées that emerge from chef-owner Joe Esparza's kitchen. Look for offerings like lean smoked-sirloin tacos-Esparza's is renowned for its smoked meats-and, for the truly adventurous diner, ostrich enchiladas.

ESPLANADE AT RIVERPLACE 1510 S.W. Harbor Way, Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/228-3233. ( $25 to $35) American Cuisine. Tall windows frame a view of the sailboat-filled marina and the Willamette River, providing a dramatic backdrop to this restaurant in the RiverPlace Hotel. The cuisine is gourmet Northwest-Dungeness crab cakes; plump scallops seared with fennel, red onion, and oyster mushrooms; duck with blackberry sauce-and the wine list includes many hard-to-find Northwest vintages. Reservations essential.

HOKKAIDO JAPANESE CUISINE AND SUSHI BAR 6744 N.E. Sandy Blvd.,East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/288-3731. ( $15 to $25) Japanese cuisine. The soothing sound of water flowing through a rock fountain greets diners at this restaurant with very reasonable prices. The sushi and sashimi are impeccably fresh and show occasional flashes of inspiration. Try the spider roll, a whole soft-shell crab surrounded by seaweed, rice, and wasabi.

INDIGENE 3723 S.E. Division St., East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/238-1470 ( $15 to $25 )Eclectic cuisine. Chef-owner Millie Howe wows regulars with her unique cuisine, which draws on the flavors of India, Latin America, Indonesia, and Europe. Depending on the season, diners may encounter rabbit with mustard, fresh rosemary, cream, and green peppercorns; fresh razor clams seared in butter and garlic; or a four-course Indian feast with fresh homemade chutneys. This intimate restaurant, accented with flowers and natural wood, has a pleasingly spare look. The small garden deck out back is a great place for a romantic dinner on a summer evening. Reservations essential.

JAKE'S FAMOUS CRAWFISH 401 S.W. 12th Ave., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/226-1419 ( $15 to $25)Seafood. Diners have been enjoying fresh Northwest seafood in Jake's warren of wood-paneled dining rooms for more than a century-the back bar came around Cape Horn during the 1880s, and the chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings date from 1881. But it wasn't until 1920, when crawfish was added to the menu, that the restaurant began to get a national reputation. White-coated waiters can take your order from a lengthy sheet of daily seafood specials year-round, but try to come during crawfish season, from May to September, when you can sample the tasty crustacean in pie, cooked creole style, or in a Cajun-style stew over rice. http://www.mccormickandschmicks.com/

KORNBLATT'S 628 N.W. 23rd Ave., Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/242-0055 ( Under $15) American cuisine. Kornblatt's serves the best bagel in Portland. The decor at this kosher deli is reminiscent of a 1950s diner; the fresh-cooked pastrami, corned beef, and tongue are lean and tender; and the home-smoked salmon and sablefish are simply the best. For breakfast, try the poached eggs with spicy corned-beef hash. Reservations not accepted.

MISOHAPI 1123 N.W. 23rd Ave., Nob Hill and Vicinity, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/796-2012 ( Under $15 )Thai, Vietnamese cuisine. For the price you can't beat Misohapi. The interior is hip tongue-in-chic '90s modern with pastel walls, white fabric clouds supported by stainless-steel rods, and unusual lighting fixtures. The food is a mixture of Thai and Vietnamese with a sushi bar thrown in for good measure. Try the hot-and-sour seafood soup, the lemongrass seafood dish, or the peanutty pad thai noodles with shrimp.

MONTAGE 301 S.E. Morrison St., East of the Willamette, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/234-1324 ( Under $15 ). Spicy Cajun is the jumping-off point for the chef at this sassy bistro under the Morrison Bridge on Portland's east side. Jambalayas, blackened pork and catfish, hoppin' John, rabbit sausage, and old-fashioned macaroni dishes are served up from around noon until the wee hours in an atmosphere that's loud, crowded, and casually hip. Reservations not accepted. No credit cards. No lunch on weekends.

MURATA 200 S.W. Market St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/227-0080 ( Over $35 ) Japanese cuisine. It's tiny and the prices are steep, but Murata has the finest sushi in town. Uni (sea urchin), hamachi (yellowtail tuna), saba (mackerel), aji (Spanish mackerel), and kasu (cod) are all outstanding. Reserve a day ahead for kaiseki, several courses assembled by the chef.

NEWPORT BAY AT RIVERPLACE RiverPlace, 0425 S.W. Montgomery St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/227-3474. ( $15 to $25) Seafood. When it comes to river, bridge, and city-skyline views, there's not a bad seat in this circular glass dining room that literally floats on the Willamette River. Newport Bay seeks out whatever is in season worldwide, which might include Oregon spring salmon, Maine lobster, Australian lobster tail, Alaskan halibut, sturgeon, or New Zealand roughy, as well as swordfish, marlin, and shark.

PIZZICATO 705 S.W. Alder St., Downtown and the Pearl District, Portland, OR, USA. Phone: 503/226-1007 ( Under $15 ) American cuisine. This local chain serves up gourmet pizzas topped by inventive combinations such as red potato and prosciutto. The restaurant interiors are clean, bright, and modern. Beer and wine are available. There is a second location at 505 N.W. 23rd Avenue (tel. 503/242-0023). X-Format: HTML Originally-From: KikaCart@aol.com

-Kika

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