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Leave it to groundbreaking chef Chris Israel to bring Alpine cuisine to Portland. Israel redefined the local restaurant scene with Bruce Carey at Zefiro nearly 20 years ago, and followed that up with Saucebox in 1995. After a stint in New York as an Art Director at Vanity Fair (yeah, the guy is talented, to say the least), he returned to Portland and Carey's restaurant mini-empire at 23Hoyt. Grüner is Israel's first solo project (though he's partnered with ChefStable, which brought us Ping), and as with all his endeavors, a labor of love. The 32-seat restaurant resides in the SkyLab building, so is, of course, architecturally striking. But it's the menu of hearty German and Austrian dishes—like housemaid bratwurst and wine-braised sauerkraut, buckwheat späetzle with rabbit, beef short rub goulash—that really have my attention. It's a culinary adventure that shouldn't be missed. Liz Hummer, 1/7/10
Perhaps the most wonderful thing in all the world is the taste and texture of melting bread. If you're having trouble picturing that, then make haste to Grüner and try the happy hour weisswurst, a pretzel-wrapped sausage so juicy it's almost creamy. After one bite, you'll see—and taste—how the warmth of this juicy beef-and-pork frank melts the breading that surrounds it. If you want to skip meat altogether, you can always ask for the polenta croquettes—two round fritters bound together by a deep-fried skin and a molten raclette center. (You may want to let them rest before your first bite so the melted cheese can cool.) If it's a sunny day and bartender Jessica Braasch is behind the stick, ask her to make you a Zora, her plum-colored, tequila sunrise-like cocktail made with tequila blanco, orange juice, pickled cherries and pelinkovac (Croatian bitters). Happy hour only runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and with affordable, stiff craft drinks and items that range in price from $2 to $5, there's often a crowd—make sure you show a little early so you're sure to hit that 90-minute window.