"Where did the summer go?"

It's a familiar refrain, particularly in the Columbia-Pacific region, where the warm-weather season is fleeting.

Me? I know where a good portion of my June, July, August and early September was spent - dining out. Fortunately, lingering memories of luscious eats ranging from basil-scented risotto to zucchini muffins will help sustain me throughout the wet, cold months ahead.

Below are my picks for this summer's best bites, an annual peek back at the season's most unforgettable meals. Some of the topnotch preparations mentioned below may not be currently offered. Phone ahead to check availability.

Roll that ZAn Italian friend who resides in Seattle chided me to pronounce "risotto" correctly. Say "ree-ZAW-toh," she insisted, and allow that "z" sound to roll off your tongue.

OK, but I'd rather enjoy risotto than articulate it. Trouble is, there aren't many area restaurants that offer this dish featuring Italian arborio rice. Even when they do, the risotto often is served dry and overly sticky or too wet and slurpy.

Neither is the case at Pauly's Bistro (235 Howerton St., Ilwaco, Wash., (360) 642-8447), where the late-summer menu includes a good-to-the-last-grain plate of risotto blended with butter, vegetable stock and fresh basil, then garnished with sliced grape tomatoes and pecorino Romano ($12).

Korean bountySure Kim's Kitchen (575 E. Harbor Drive, Warrenton, 861-4314) purveys superior tempura-battered fish. But a superior way to sample owner-chef Kim Fuhrmann's seafood is to opt for hammer chop tung, a bounty of prawns, oysters, Dungeness crab claws, plump scallops, chunks of halibut and slices of petrale sole, all of it steamed in a piquant broth redolent of garlic and chili peppers. Simple but certainly not subtle, this preparation is the Korean version of bouillabaisse or cioppino, except tofu is part of the mix ($14.50).

Perfect paniniThe food served at Fulio's (1149 Commercial St., Astoria, (503) 325-9001) is a serious attempt to represent the hearty but simplistic culinary richness that sets Italy apart from the rest of the world. Consider Panini, the grilled specialty sandwiches so popular at trendy trattorias. Fulio's ELT pairs goat cheese and thinly sliced, well-seasoned eggplant, two fixings that marry perfectly amid slices of grilled house-baked bread doused with olive oil and oozing goodness. For an even lustier lunch, order your ELT accompanied by grilled rosemary potatoes ($7.50).

Fulio's will host a Mozerella cheese-making demonstration and sweet Italian white wine tasting from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25. Wines will include moscato, tocai and prosecco varieties. The event is free.

Coffee bar saladsGive me a vibrant salad anytime, even if it means forgoing a larger but less exciting entree. Alma Avery Rubenstein, proprietor-chef at Kooky's Cafe (Inside Godfather's Books, 1108 Commercial St., Astoria, 325-8143), crafts her leafy lunches with a menagerie of gorgeous greens, roasted corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, candied almonds, cheeses, slivers of fruit and other tasty tidbits, all dressed with, say, a pleasantly tart apple-cider vinaigrette. For something more substantial, try a salad topped with perfectly grilled steak or breast of chicken. The ambience is unusual: Salads are served from the back of a coffee bar inside a bookstore ($5.95).

Richie knows pizzaFast-talking, broad-shouldered Richie Brose, a transplant from just north of The City, knows how to craft a pizza. His pies are the requisitely gooey, gloppy and doughy variety the New York area has made famous and that pizzerias everywhere have tried to emulate. Brose's sauce is mildly seasoned, he sprinkles ample amounts of provolone, mozzarella and Locatelli Romano cheeses on every pie, and he uses toppings as accents instead of center pieces. Thick- or thin-crusted, all large pizzas are oversized ($17.95-$24.50), and I'd gladly drive a half hour from Astoria to Seaside to order one. You can, too at Richie B's (300 S. Roosevelt Drive, Seaside, (503) 738-7700).

Floating fish 'n chipsI've got nothing against chicken-fried steak or burgers, but the Columbia-Pacific region's quintessential comfort food is a platter piled high with fish and chips. Halibut is the preferred seafood, and chips should be thick-cut tater slices hot from the deep fryer. Such is the ocean bounty at Fletcher's Fish & Chips (134 River St., St. Helens, Ore., (503) 397-0311), a delightful floating restaurant anchored in a postcard-perfect marina. Halibut is breaded with a crunchy and non-greasy herb-infused coating, and irresistible hand-cut fries are cooked skins intact and served with vinegar and catsup ($7.25 - $15.75).

Plush breakfastsAt the attractively restored Shelburne Inn (4415 Pacific Highway S., Seaview, Wash., (800) 466-1896), Washington's oldest continuously operating lodging, the public can join guests for one of innkeeper David Campiche's exquisite breakfasts. A shrimp souffle roll oozing ricotta, smoked-salmon or smoked-chicken frittatas and a warming bowl of huckleberry-apple oatmeal are some of the possibilities. Petite Willapa Bay oysters and wild mushrooms often make appearances. And wife Laurie Anderson's fresh-baked goodies - treats as varied as zucchini muffins and banana-nut bread - grace every morning repast, served at a massive rectangular oak table ($11.95, reservations required).

Street eatsFun-to-eat street food can be plenty satisfying, and Astoria's Sunday Market (through Oct. 5, along 12th Street between Exchange Street and the waterfront) offers a plethora of vendors. Being a bivalve geek, I gravitate to Jolly Roger Oyster Company for a barbecued 'ster on the half shell ($1.50), a requisitely juicy tidbit sprinkled with Parmesan. Luscious libations - a lavender-mint julep tea ($2) or strawberry lemonade ($3) - can be had from the next booth over, Gourmet On The Go.

Just dessertsDesserts deserve a category of their own. Some of my favorites: a summer raspberry torte crafted with sourdough bread and topped with Devonshire sauce ($5.50) from The Ark Restaurant (273rd Street and Sandridge Road, Nahcotta, Wash., (360) 665-4133); a stand-up version of sweet-potato pie ($2.50) available at The Rib House Restaurant (577 14th St., Astoria, 325-3132); a rotating trio of sorbets - tangerine, wild blackberry and mango-papaya-pineaple, perhaps ($3.75) - from Home Spirit Bakery Cafe (1585 Exchange St., Astoria, (503) 325-6846); coconut cake sprinkled with toasted coconut, graced with caramel sauce and paired with vanilla ice cream ($5.50) from Kalypso (619 Broadway, Seaside, 738-6302); and at the Moby Dick Hotel and Oyster Farm (25814 Sandridge Road, Nahcotta, Wash., (360) 665-4543), the pot au creme endowed with Belgian chocolate, a harmony of sweet and rich, thick and light and brown and white ($5).

Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail mouth@dailyastorian.com

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