Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Portland to the Piedmont in one night!

I'm back from blog-hiatus, and with a stellar offer for all of you living in Portland. For the rest of you, should you find yourselves with plans to visit our fair city, pay attention. Here's the deal: In the next five minutes or so you spend reading this, you can have an extra $3,000 in your pocket! I know, pretty fucking crazy, right? Check it out....

About four months ago w and I took a trip to the Piedmont region of Italy for some serious eating and drinking research. The wine was incredible, and the Piedmontese cuisine was completely off the hook. We pine for it all the time. Including a few days in the Cinque Terre and five days in Paris (BTW-you can read all the delicious details by going back in the blog archives to late April/early May 2007), and the fact that our wallets were bludgeoned by the Euro-dollar beatdown, we dropped a few thousand each. Any of you with plans for the same trip, get your finances in order. So what about that 3G savings deal? Here's all you have to do: Get in your car, drive about 10-20 minutes out to 6440 SW Capitol Highway here in PDX, and dig in to owner/chef Kurt Spak's dead-on Piedmontese creations at his sublimely satisfying restaurant Alba Osteria. This is food as good as anything you'll eat in town, and measures up to the best meals we had on our Italian sojourn.

Where to begin? How about with a couple of glasses of fizzy prosecco and a dish of perfectly prepared fritto misto, lightly battered and fried Willapa Bay oysters and shrimp with a fennel salad. Then to go old/new school surf and turf, we also had a plate of Kurt's exceptional carne cruda, which is fresh, lean, raw chopped beef with lemon, olive oil, and Reggiano. Why most chefs seem to fear this dish and lack faith in their customers sense of adventure I have no idea. Our waiter Jeff said they sell tons of it, so obviously it's not a customer problem. And besides, it is something I LOVE, so get with it you guys!

We followed those 2 plates of satisfaction with their baked sweet peppers with Oregon albacore, anchovy, and olive oil. This was fantastic, beautifully presented, perfectly balanced. And with a glass of Arneis, the signature white from the Piedmont, it was swoon-worthy.

Now, when we were in the Piedmont, we had some crazy multi-course feasts that went on for two to three hours, which is the only way you can eat that much food. We were going for the same effect at Alba, and next time I think I'd tell Kurt we wee in no hurry, and space the dishes a little further apart. I know most Americans freak out if one plate doesn't slap down on the table the moment they're done with their last dish, but with this kind of cooking, it's all about pace, taking the time to enjoy each bite, and the nuances and subtleties of flavor. Even without that pacing, we were going for it this night, so our next plate out was a shared dish of ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles and cream. Oh, man, perfectly pillowy gnocchis blanketed in a luscious mushroom cream sauce that made me want to curl up with them. So good, not heavy at all, just seasonal satisfaction at it's finest.

There was more on the menu, so we had to keep going. w had their fish special of mushroom stuffed trout which she loved, but sadly by then couldn't finish due to all the indulgence. I had the Alba pork fest, aka an incredible plate of slow roasted pork belly, cotechino sausage, and a Grive Monferrato which was an amazing pork and pork liver sausage patty. All this served with some silky smooth potato puree. Oh, and I had brought a bottle out of the archives of 1997 Ausario Barbaresco that was perfection, slowly opening to reveal it's rich, ripe, earthy blackberry fruit. Wow!

Then, despite w's admittedly weak objections because she loves it as much as I do, we had his gelato trio. Three scoops of house made hazelnut, vanilla, and caramel gelato that were creamy goodness defined, and left us stuffed, satisfied, and deciding that if we can't be in Italy, this isn't a bad way to go.

We talked with Kurt for a few minutes on our way out, and you can't help but feel his passion and commitment. He takes regular trips to the Piedmont with his sous chef to recharge and keep up with what's happening, and then comes back and dishes it like nobody else. This is the best Italian food in town, and as good as anything I've had at any Italian restaurant in the country. Yeah, it's that good. Plus, those 3G's in my pocket are feeling pretty good!

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