$ Cheap (entrees less than $10)
$$ Average (entrees $10-$18)
$$$ Expensive (entrees $19-$25)
$$$$ Half a paycheck (entrees $26 and up)
Ratings are based on a four-star scale
**** Excellent food, creative items and top notch service.
*** Good food, good value and nothing below reasonable expectations.
** Two stars are given to restaurants that are adequate but need improvement. You wouldn’t go out of your way to eat there again unless changes in quality and menu were made.
* One star is reserved for places that you would not recommend under almost any circumstances.
The moment I walk in the door of Eleni’s Philoxenia & Estiatorio, my notion of traditional Greek food flies right out—nary a basket of pita bread in sight. Candlelit tables evoke intimate and romantic Crete, the Greek Isle where Eleni Touhouliotis was born and learned to cook.
Eleni’s seasonings come from three main ingredients—the very best imported olive oil, garlic and bursts of lemon juice. Add in a trace of cinnamon and cloves, and the flavor profile is unmatched. The wine cellar consists of hundreds of hand-selected global varietals. From a menu of seventeen Greek reds alone, we choose a bottle from the island of Santorini.
For appetizers, we opt for kalitsounia, superb little pastries filled with a perfect blend of warm and creamy kasseri cheese, spinach and a hint of mint. The saganaki (kefalograviera cheese pan fried in olive oil) is served in a flaming Cognac and extinguished by lemon.
The second course, sautéed spinach salad and exochiki salata—a medley of roma tomatoes, cucumber, green onion, olives, capers and imported feta cheese ($11)—has piqued our appetites.
For the main dish, there is pasta with garlic-grilled prawns ($18), succulent organic chicken with orzo ($16), tomato-braised hormone-free beef (market price) and lots of vegetarian and vegan dishes. We order the special: herb-crusted rack of Oregon lamb with perfectly cooked arborio rice in a balsamic reduction (market price), and a tender lamb shank ($19). An excellent finish to a wonderful night is a pear poached in white wine, drizzled with honey and served in a martini glass along with a slice of baklava ($8).
Solitary low-hanging light bulbs cast an amber glow across the intimate restaurant. Tables of reclaimed wood and simple chairs contrast with the white wallpaper printed with large black thistles. It is this balance that chef Eric Bechard and co-owner Emily Howard have created in their wine country restaurant. Bechard and Howard opened Thistle in 2009 with a focus on local ingredients, working closely with Briar Rose Creamery, Oakhill Organics and Viridian Farm. Inside, a large chalkboard displays the dozen or so choices for the first course. Options include beef tartare speckled with minced shallots and capers ($11), and pork rillette with pickled green beans and mustard accoutrements ($10). Though the menu changes daily, keep an eye out for the seasoned chicken breast with chanterelles, kale and sweet corn ($25) as an entrée. One dessert is offered nightly with treats such as lemon ginger panna cotta with huckleberries. Howard has put together an extensive but not overwhelming wine list with a healthy dose of Oregon wines. At Thistle, the style and quality you would expect from a big-city restaurant meets the pace and freshness of country cuisine.
Genoa feels like a secret. Its understated curbside appeal generates immediate skepticism that you are about to enter a restaurant that has stimulated foodies and spawned marital engagements since 1971. The thick curtain dividing Genoa patrons from passersby on Belmont Street reveals a romantic, fire-lit ambience that manages to exceed Genoa’s reputation as “the best place for special occasions.” Genoa was a predecessor to the culinary artistry you’ll find in many Portland restaurants today. Its food is inventively styled with exquisite attention to detail. The five-course meal is largely chosen for you by chef David Anderson and changes monthly, though some will rejoice in knowing that Genoa now offers vegetarian and fish options. The antipasti of salumi, fici e finocchio was a delicious start to the evening, followed by a delicate tagliatelle con aragosta, delicious house-made pasta with poached Maine lobster and cherry tomatoes. Main course choices include tonno e polpo, Oregon albacore tuna; faraona con caponata, fried leg of guinea fowl; or bisteca con pomodore, twenty-eight-day dry-aged Carlton Farms ribeye steak. Succulent desserts round out the five-course, sixty-five dollar meal. With impeccable service and decadent food, Genoa is a top Portland dining experience.
Traveling to King Estate, nearly thirty minutes southwest of Eugene, is a bit of a commitment. But one visit to this amazing restaurant and you’ll agree that every minute was worth it. Set on one hundred rolling acres, the restaurant has incredible views from its elegant chateau. The menu is seasonal and based largely on what’s available in the estate’s organic garden. For fall, appetizers included excellent crab cakes ($15) with a satisfying salad of pickled plums, fresh cucumbers and basil. The pasta in the gnocchi bolognese ($11) is light as a feather, and would have made a great small entrée— if it weren’t such a shame to skip the entrees. The Lava Lake lamb loin ($28) is superb. It came paired with chanterelle mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and fingerling potatoes. The seared Oregon albacore ($28) is dreamy in a rich yellow curry sauce. Asian vegetables such as bok choy and shiitake mushrooms were the perfect seasonal accompaniment. For dessert, it’s hard to beat an old-fashioned flourless chocolate cake ($8)—unless it’s served with espresso ice cream and ground hazelnut brittle. Or try the pear and berry crisp ($8). Topped with basil ice cream, it’s the best.