Portland: Tanuki

Tanuki looks like a standard neighborhood Japanese restaurant. Do not be fooled. At this teeny-tiny izakaya, Janis Martin serves small plates of Japanese and Korean fare, meant to go with sake (two dozen well-chosen bottles) or beer (mostly Asian lagers). You won’t find this kind of Japanese soul food by way of the Pacific Northwest anywhere else, which is why Tanuki has been slowly building a Momofuku-like cult following. Martin, who learned to cook while living with a Japanese-American family in Cleveland and went on to work at Charlie Trotter’s, serves sake-steamed clams with kimchi sorbet. Her “breakfast sandwich” consists of a slice of sautéed lotus root topped with a longanisa sausage patty and a fried quail egg. She cooks every dish herself, on a hot plate, and charges absurdly low prices.

Tanuki 413 N.W. 21st Ave., Portland, OR (503-241-7667; tanukipdx.com)

Raleigh, NC: Poole’s Downtown Diner

The beehived waitresses are gone. But between the chalkboards that herald the evening’s menu hangs a gorgeous black-and-white of two old broads, Freda and Dot, attired in starched waitress whites. It glows as if backlit by the candescence of their vim and sass. Poole’s was once a diner of the Linoleum Counter School. Now it’s that, and more. It’s a black box of a place, with swooping counters that call to mind, well, breasts, and red leather banquettes that call to mind, well, backseats pulled from ’57 Chevys. Ashley Christensen, the young chef at the prow, is a rounder with a heart of butter. And she can flat-out cook. A few highlights from my feast: griddled scallops in a velouté of artichoke hearts and leeks; jelly roll of braised pork belly drizzled with honey; royale of ground chuck served on toasted brioche and gilded with a rosemary demi-glace. While I ate, Neko Case, the hipster chanteuse of the moment, wailed through the speakers. And the ghosts of Freda and Dot danced. It was a very good night.

Poole’s Downtown Diner 426 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, N.C. (919-832-4477; poolesdowntowndiner.com)

Lyon, France: La Mère Brazier

“The traditionalists would be horrified, while those who like contemporary French cooking were going to be bored,” says chef Matthieu Viannay of the dilemma he faced when he decided to revive Lyon’s venerable La Mère Brazier (closed since 2004). Founded by one of Lyon’s famous mères (female chefs) in 1921, the restaurant is one of the great monuments of French gastronomy. First, Viannay sought the advice of a cook who’d apprenticed under Eugénie Brazier herself in 1945—the legendary Paul Bocuse—whose advice was to “stay simple and respect the sauces.” And that he’s done. Since artichoke hearts stuffed with foie gras—a Mère Brazier classic—couldn’t really be topped, Viannay now serves a delicious lobe of foie gras alongside a sliced artichoke heart in a light vinaigrette and a miniature artichoke heart filled with a small ball of foie gras that references the original. For his efforts, La Mère Brazier has just been awarded two Michelin stars.

La Mère Brazier 12 rue Royale, Lyon, France (04-78-23-17-20)
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