Food critic picks her five favorite local restaurants of 2012

Gray's at the Park, Strada top list

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The restaurant that would have occupied the number one spot on my list of Clark County's top dining destinations has closed. Executive Chef Morris Fenton and Gwyn Manney have their sights set abroad, thus, the passing of Oliver's. The restaurant, though small as it was and humbly situated in Camas, made a large impression on the dining scene in Southwest Washington. It even attracted the likes of KOIN-TV, Food and Wine Magazine, and numerous other publications.

Sadly for us, we have lost the best, though I wish Morris and Gwyn the very best in their endeavors abroad. They are an exceptional match and I am certain success will follow them wherever they land.

That said, I've given much thought to my favorites of 2012. It takes such a perfect mix to make a delicious impression. It's not just about the food. It begins the moment you walk through the door and it ends … well, it doesn't end. The impression lingers in your subconscious. The desire to revisit isn't always triggered by hunger, but it always looks for a simple excuse (such as hunger) to book the date.

A favorite restaurant brings comfort and satisfaction. A favorite restaurant is a place where one may return knowing that regardless of all else, they will enter to find all is as enjoyable and delicious as it was when they last left. Restaurants may all be loved by some, but certain attributes set a few apart as special. There are different categories of style and cuisine that further broadens the scope of favorites. All things considered, a personal affinity for a place that fills more than just an appetite is a favorite restaurant.

For a romantic ,quiet evening of delicious food and top-notch service, my present choice is a booth at Gray's at the Park, 301 W. Sixth St, Vancouver. The restaurant offers valet parking and what I've found to be the most attentive wait staff in Clark County. I preferred the former menu to the newest Hilton revision, though there are plenty of carryover items to select from that provide Pacific Northwest exclusives.

Of the newest fast-casual restaurants that opened up in 2012, my favorite is Strada, 2100 SE 164th Ave., Suite 109-A, Vancouver. The piadinas made with sausage are habit-forming and the space is efficient and comfortable with an air of sophistication. The staff is smiling and friendly and management has a professional presence right alongside.

For a place off the beaten path, my choice is C'est la vie in the Angst Art Gallery, 1015 Main St., Vancouver. Although I've never been to Paris, I feel as though I've taken in its essence after a visit to the café, which feels more akin to cozy kitchen dining than restaurant dining. The crepes and salads are one-of-a-kind and they offer some of the best tea I've had.

I'll probably have many naysayers regarding my pizza choice, but I have a theory when it comes to "good pizza" – unless it's not cooked, there really isn't a bad pizza. My personal Clark County favorite is 360 Pizzeria, 3425 S.E. 192nd Ave., Vancouver. I find the crust reasonable and the toppings well-suited and balanced. I also enjoy the modern fireside atmosphere.

For an evening of food and cocktails, Birch Street Uptown Lounge, 311 Northeast Birch St., Camas, is my favorite place to visit. If you have out-of-town guests, it's sure to impress. I love the vintage atmosphere. It is a unique place that conveys the romance of a different era. The pork sliders are scrumptious.

There are other restaurants that come to mind as I consider my favorites, but if I had to survive on only five, these would be the five.

So what's in store for 2013? Your guess is as good as mine. Since I began writing for The Columbian in 2007, I have seen many restaurants come and go. The demise of some has come as no surprise, yet there have been those that have perplexed me. I hope some standard-setters are on the horizon in order to keep the quality of dining on an upward path. I also hope we have some menu revisions that will reflect food trends alongside the tried-and-true.

I'm looking forward to the 2013 dining scene. I will do some revisiting of established restaurants and cover the new ones as well. They won't know who I am when I walk in the door, but I will always have you in mind. I know we all work hard for our money, so my goal is to report a realistic, whole experience in order for you to decide if it's something of interest.