It's good to know that even after being gone for a couple of years...or more...there are places where when you return you experience that immediate feeling of comfort, a sort of "going home" kind of feeling. Mom and I went out to dinner last night at Caffé Mingo on NW 21st here in PDX. Mingo was the place I used to go ALL the time. Sometimes more than once a week. It was almost embarrassing, but so freaking good I gladly put up with the humiliation to stuff myself with more of their simple, well-made Italian food. The intimate, salt box sized space, the staff, the food, and one of the top two counters to eat at in town (the other being my new Mingo in terms of regularity, Café Castagna). For whatever reason, Mingo had fallen off my radar, so last night I decided it was time to get reacquainted with my old pleasure provider.
The view into the kitchen from our ringside seats, where the chef is getting his flame on!
We walked in and I was immediately happy to be there. The room had a good buzz going even at 6:30, and we were led to their chefs table that looks right into the kitchen, a great front row seat where you can watch the chef cooking your food and himself at the same time. Even better my old friend Greg was working the counter and would be our waiter. Nothing like being in the hands of an old hand (G...I mean "old" in the sense you've been there for a while, not "old" in that other sense, 'kay?). I checked out the menu and decided on the all important beverage of the evening off their very reasonably priced list, a delicious bottle of Renato Ratti Barbera "Torreglione", which throughout the meal did nothing to change my conviction that Barbera from Italy's Piedmont is maybe the ultimate food wine. Then we got right into it with a starter of Spiedini di Gamberi (shrimp and croutons skewered and grilled) and their Vongole (clams steamed in a garlic-chili broth). Both were excellent, the shrimp seasoned lightly with red pepper flakes and fennel seed and so fresh. The vongole was working it too, the clams briny and fresh, with nice garlicky aromatics and a nice bit of chili bite on the finish. Antipastis that both did their job of getting us ready for more.
For the mains, mom went light with Insalata di Spinaci (left), which was a wonderfully flavorful spinach salad with grilled pears, red onion, castelrosso cheese, and roasted walnuts tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. If you're doing salad for your entrée, this is how it should be. A not-too-heavy mix of sweet-savory grilled pears and red onions set off by the slightly salty cheese and vinaigrette. After much deliberation and guidance from Greg (I love it when you ask your waiter if you should order something that looks awesome and he very discreetly advises against it. Credibility rules!). I finally went with their signature Penne al Sugo di Carne (right), which has been on their menu from the beginning. I figured if I'm coming home after all these years, this dish is the culinary equivalent of sliding into those old slippers hiding under the bed. It was perfect. A super rich, savory dish of Cascade Natural beef braised in chianti and espresso, the pasta just al dente. One bite and I could've wept. So good. But why waste energy crying like a little girl when I had this dish of meaty goodness to wok through.
At this point reasonable people would call it good and head out the door, happily satisfied at the shared conversation and food. As you've probably figured by now if you've been following my frenzied feedings, reasonable and food are two things that don't go together in my indulgent mind. Luckily mom was right there with me, so we finished this over the top dinner with a slice Limon Torte (an olive oil lemon cake) that was perfectly moist, sweet, and tart all at the same time; and we also indulged in their Panna Cotta topped with amarena cherries, an awesomely rich dessert beautifully described by mom as "something that makes your teeth hurt", but in a good way, you know? This was a great meal and I left with a full belly and warm feelings. Not a bad way to return home! A special shout out to Greg: Thanks and great to see you...I'll be back soon!