Saturday, March 01, 2008

Italian prayers answered in Portland!

Certain things in the material world for certain people are as good as it gets. For Carrie Bradshaw a spiky new pair of Manolo Blahniks made her inner diva swoon. For Itzhak Perlman I'm guessing a finely tuned Stradivarius playing that achingly beautiful melody is pretty high on the list. For our President the thought of a country in need of a lesson in good 'ol U.S. democracy means a good night ahead for Laura. For London chef Fergus Henderson a tub of freshly rendered pig's offal I've heard is enough to set him to flights of culinary frenzy. For me, you show me a beautifully made, soul warming, foamy cappuccino with a slightly sweet piece of pastry or a demi-baguette with butter and jam will absolutely make me melt. And since this bit of self indulgence is all about me, we'll start there.

My real love affair with the cappuccino really took hold on a trip to Venice...that would be Italy...a few years ago where every morning I would head down first thing to the dining room of the Hotel Metropole and have al perfectly made doppio cappuccino. I can still remember all these years later its warmly satisfying richness, and all cappuccinos I've had since have been measured against this cup of caffeinated beauty. Living in Portland in the supposed coffee mad northwest, you'd think it wouldn't be that difficult to find something at least close to that. Sadly, not so. I used to come close at a coffee roaster that came down from Seattle called Torrefazione Italia, where the Bizzarri family lovingly roasted beans in the Italian tradition glend from grandfather Emanuele in Perugia, and they took their coffee drinks seriously. Their cappuccinos were right up there, easily the best I'd had in the U.S. Then, seemingly overnight, they disappeared, apparently the recipients of an offer they couldn't refuse from the Starbucks gang of coffee conformity. While I understand and have a certain respect for cashing out when the time is right, selfishly I was fucking pissed! Just when they had me reliving memories of Venice, canals, gondolas, Montserrat Caballé's stunning Puccini arias floating in my head...poof...gone.......
Then I heard rumblings that the Bizzarri's were back in business, starting anew with a company called Caffé Umbria, back to roasting coffee in Seattle. I had seen signs of their coffee appearing at various restaurants and coffee shops in town. Then came the news that they had finally opened a store here in Portland in the inner-northwest. Could it be that all was about to be well with my inner-Italian? In a state of heightened anticipation I stopped by their store last Sunday with w. It is a modern, euro-sleek space, and I was comforted to see my old Torrefazione friend Pasquale ensconced in front of an espresso machine. Could this be.....could this really be it? I wandered up to the counter, where one of the guys was barking out orders in Italian. Oh, this is a good sign! I ordered my beloved doppio cappuccino with an almost prayerful look on my face. Then, as if delivered by the god of all that is good and Italian it appeared.....
....and I was happy! Perfect, beautifully presented with a slash of coffee drizzled across the top of the almost lighter than air foam. The coffee rich, just slightly bitter on the tongue in the way it should be with a smooth, cocoa-infused finish. So Italian with a small piece of dark chocolate alongside each cup. I've been back three more times, giving up years of weaning myself off of that regular four dollar coffee coffee shop habit, my coffee maker at home being neglected while I gleefully throw my discretionary income the Bizzarri's way. And I don't care. With a piece of frutti di brioche from Portland's über-of-the-moment Nuvrei Bakery, it all seems such a small price to pay.

With fabulous coffee served in an open, light filled space, pastries from Nuvrei (the brioche, left) and delicious gelato...may I recommend the nociola...and various panini and other tempting nibbles, this has quickly become my favorite escape!

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