Friday, March 23, 2007

Heaven on Hawthorne

A lot of you know that I am a total honk for the amazing food put out at Castagna Café here in Portland. I go there more than any other place in town, and nobody in America takes care of my burger craving like the juicy morsels that come spinning off the grill there. And don't even get me started on the fries. Potato perfection! But all too often I feel I'm giving short shrift to the Café's big brother next door, Castagna.

This is the original, the inspiration for all the goodness at the café and for my money one of the two best restaurants in town. Actually one of the best restaurants I've eaten at anywhere. Owners Monique Siu and Kevin Gibson have created a casually elegant and comfortable dining oasis on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. I love the understated dining room, and the chairs are so comfy. So, to make up for past neglect, w and I went for dinner last Wednesday, and of course were knocked out by the food we had. w hadn't been, except for a time at a wine dinner a few months ago where the couple across from us who we didn't know ended up getting in a fight, with her crying and him acting like a control freak ass. Oh, the best part was it was her birthday. "Gee honey, Happy Birthday. Could you quit crying on your dessert, please?"

Okay, major digression, but an all time restaurant story. So, we show up, no tears on the horizon, and have our palates knocked out by the food and beverage. We started with a couple of glasses of Guy Charlemagne Champagne Blanc de Blancs which was sublime, and the perfect thing to have with our starters of a 1/2 dozen Malaspina Oysters, Wild Watercress Soup, and what they call the Trio, which is a revolving seasonal offering. That night it was roasted Chioggia beets, fried cardoon, and a feta & thyme salad. All so good. Then chef Kevin Gibson took liberties because he is well acquainted with my love of the cured pork product, and sent out a plate of Belgian endive and apple salad with slices of their house cured lomo. His lomo was off the hook, silky texture, rich flavor...better than the best prosciuotto you've ever had. Too good.

Then on to the entrées, where Kevin (aka The Handsome One) hit it on the screws with both our dishes. w had the Coq au Vin Jaune, which was chicken thighs braised with Vin Jaune and morels with Betty's Noodles. It was so nice, the earthy morels playing the perfect counterpoint to the rich sauce and the fork tender chicken. I had the leftovers yesterday for lunch, and it was maybe even better! I ordered the Sautéed Muscovy Duck breast, which was I think the most tender, perfectly cooked duck breast I've ever had, and as if it needed more richness, it was set in a small pool of sauce Cassis. It was served with Swiss chard and pommes Dauphin, little fried fingers of mashed potato. Needless to say, my plate was practically licked clean. For our drinking pleasure, I had pulled a bottle of 1997 Panaretta Chianti Classico out of the cellar. It was perfect, a classic Italian sangiovese drinking at it's absolute peak. Yum!

And yes, we had room for dessert. After much deliberation we chose a sensually creamy crème brulée served with a mini chocolate pot de crème, and also a crazy good tart-sweet Meyer lemon tart with huckleberry sauce. Somehow we managed to swill down a glass of Moscato d'Asti, which is always an acceptable way to finish. All in all, Kevin and his kitchen crew rocked us, and if you live here in PDX or planning a visit, put this on your list of must-go places!

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