Chaval

Success ruins every city eventually. Some industry flourishes and the town gentrifies. It gets its good coffee and ramen, sees the rents go up, and the spendy bastards take over.

But what if a city’s flourishing industry is the coffee and ramen itself? Los Angeles and New York created art and credit default swaps before getting good food. San Francisco made the internet; D.C. wrote bad policy; cute college towns produce graduates. But Portland skipped a step, and our singular success is good food — the expensive leisure that refreshes more productive energies in other towns. So we have accelerated the cycle: Rent is up. Spendy bastards are ascendant. 

 

This must be the reason Susan Collins supports a tax measure that rewards not merely the wealthy, but specifically the idle rich — inheritors and investors over even well-paid jobholders with salaries. It is a law for our town, one that rewards leisure over work, one in which nothing matters except money itself, where empty excess has triumphed over the creation of value.

 

So just as the stock market soared in anticipation of equity-buybacks, the restaurant scene had a frothy year here in Portland. Much of it resulted from established restaurant scenesters gobbling up market share. Central Provisions, Portland Hunt and Alpine, and Piccolo all successfully extended their brands. CP brought its southern European small plate excellence across the bay and a bit down to earth at Tipo. The west end’s Little Giant recreates Hunt and Alpine’s touch with sour cocktails, but softens the Scandinavianism in an appealing menu. With Chaval, the owners of Piccolo show they can do just as well with Spanish and French cuisine as their first shop did with Italian. 

 

Meanwhile Portland’s most self-satisfied wine spot, Drifters Wife, prepares for expansion, and Tandem’s trendy thin coffee continued to turn up everywhere. The gentrification of Washington Ave. deepened and crept northward. Some successful purveyors of food on wheels went brick-and-mortar, with Corazon, Mami, High Roller and Bite Into Maine all signing leases, and Baharat completely transforming the cuisine of the old CN Shwarma truck.

 

In the global political sphere, our nation’s abandonment of economic fundamentals, global leadership, and basic sanity created opportunities for rising Asian economies. As if to give us a taste of the future, it was a banner year for Asian food in Portland. Yobo’s eclectic Korean cuisine made it the city’s most interesting and pleasant new restaurant. Izakaya Minato and Mami expanded our options for elevated Japanese beyond the Miyake empire. Cong Tu Bot gave Vietnamese noodles hipster edge, Sichuan Kitchen impressed with sauceless Chinese, and Cheevitdee offered a lighter version of Thai. Asian food trucks proliferated too — Hakka Me, Thainy Boda, Nom Bai, and Tacos del Seoul all took to the streets.

 

The year saw other culinary reflections of our dwindling inner resources and coming institutional collapse. A proliferation of excellent baked goods (Belleville, Scratch Toast, Tin Pan, Little Woodfords) offered chances to carbo-load before the struggles commence. Fancy tins of preserved fish, of the sort that will be favored by a post-apocalyptic elite, turned up on menus at Little Giant and Island Creek Oysters (both of which wink at the billionaire's taste for senseless luxury — the former with $80 dollar onion rings and a drink, the latter with $70 caviar). Pickled preserves appeared on many menus, most effectively at Baharat.

 

Some of the year’s developments bucked the leisure/luxury trend, especially arepa sandwiches at Luis and Maiz, and African cuisine at Mini Mogadishu and Bujabelle. But mostly Portland continued its experiment in gentrification for its own sake, rather than as a byproduct of some more substantive ambition. 2017 saw large protests outside a trendy Denver coffee shop that seemed a bit too smug about change in a city being transformed by the tech industry. Here in Portland, the smugger the better — with every new bougie food spot cause for celebration. “Can’t wait!” we coo online. We won’t have to wait much longer for ultimate consequences of our soulless pursuit of consumption. Meanwhile, eat well Portland.

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