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In with the new

And with the even newer — the year in Portland food
By Brian Duff  |  December 22, 2009

 food_grace09_main
A TRULY GRAND OPENING Grace, in the former Chestnut Street Church.

This year represented a bittersweet end to a miserable decade for the nation. The leadership of a thoughtful, responsible president has been hamstrung by foreign-policy disasters and financial crises that were a decade in the making. In a reversal of sorts, the last year was a bittersweet end to a wonderful decade for eating out in Portland. It was a year when the national food media turned its attention toward Portland's restaurants with a surge of awards and write-ups in prominent magazines and newspapers. Portland was ready for its close-up thanks to a decade of preparation in which talented chefs have persevered in a small market with long, produce-poor, winters.

More 2009: The Year in Review

READ: Ken Greenleaf's " A special Maine feel: Exhibitions to remember from 2009 "

READ: Megan Grumbling's " Big starts: Theater in 2009 was full of newness + energy"

READ: Deirdre Fulton and Jeff Inglis's "2009 had some redeeming qualities — really"

READ: Peter Keough's "2009: The year in movies: Men behaving badly "

READ: Michael Brodeur's " Best unsung albums of 2009: The cocky and the cock-blocked "

READ: Mitch Krpata's "2009: The year in video games: Swimming in the mainstream"

So that's the sweet. The bitter is in the unfortunate timing of the attention: It came just at the moment when locals and tourists are least likely to splurge on an expensive dinner out. By the time wallets loosen up the fickle media will have moved on to other trends and other cities. There were also signs of a bubble of sorts developing in Portland's food scene. While there was plenty to like in some of 2009's most prominent new restaurants — Grace, The Farmer's Table, The Corner Room, The Salt Exchange, and Paciarino — none of them quite achieved the unambiguous heights reached by Emilitsa or Bresca in the best openings of recent years.

In the meantime, the rise of Asia continues unabated, both in the global economy and in the local food scene. Miyake's prices have crept up, but it has confirmed its place among the city's very best restaurants. Ambitious pan-Asian openings at Shima and Kon were notable, but the whole year saw new Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese ventures spot Portland's food map: Veranda Thai and Veranda Noodle, Saigon, Sabieng (replacing Nakornping), and Boda (from the guys who brought us the Green Elephant) will replace Bangkok Thai. Portland's Asian restaurants continue to offer some of the best dishes at affordable prices.

A churning economy, and a changing commercial rental market, also meant that some established restaurants played musical chairs. Walter's will open a few blocks over from its previous location, and Katahdin is headed out to Forest Avenue. Binga's, continually on the wing, landed in yet another new space, this time the capacious room that used to house the Stadium.

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