Sunday, March 29, 2009


You know how it feels when you've heard great things about a movie, especially one that seems perfect for your particular tastes? How excited you are to see it. So you finally decide to go, you feel lucky to be in the packed theater, and you settle in....ready to entertained. The lights go down, the movie starts, and for the most part it is everything you hoped for. Strong opening sequence, intriguing cast, the middle scenes only building the excitement. You just know this is going to be just what you needed. The climax of the story comes up, everything is in place for the big finish, and then...and then....EVERYTHING falls apart. You sit there, not quite believing how the director could let that happen. That almost overpowers everything that was good up 'til then. With that, may I present for you:
SIMPATICA: The Movie!!
SCENE 1: After months of being tempted by owner Benjamin Dyer's warmly worded eniticements to dine at Simpatica, and knowing how his Viande meat company is one of the two or tree best protein enablers in town, our protagonists enter a warmly lit room for the 7:30 seating at 7:25, and are somewhat surprised to be the last ones there. Two long community tables stretch back on the left and right. A smaller table is immediately to their left, an eight top, which is where they are seated. The two longer tables are somewhat more cozily lit, but what they like about this table is it looks right into the kitchen prep area so they can see the action as it unfolds. The first course arrives. They are pleased. A white bean stew with guanciale, last summer's tomatoes and housemade proscuitto. Delicious! Rich and savory, the perfect serving to warm up this cold night in Portland. The suggested glass of 2006 Sitios de Bodega "Con Class" Viura, an intensely flavored, crisp, fresh Spanish white, was a perfect match.

SCENE 2: After an unsuccessful attempt to engage the table in conversation and learning some things are best not attempted, our stars decide the best course is to pretend they're actually sitting at a two top. The second plate arrives, a beautifully done Mizuna Salad with lardons and a red wine poached egg. This was also terrifically composed, with the unusually colored poached egg startlingly striking against the vivid green mizuna. The whole thing came together beautifully, on the plate and in the mouth!

SCENE 3: Waiting for the entrée, the waiter opens the bottle of 1998 Mauro Molino "Vigna Gancia" Barolo the main characters brought it with them, happily paying the $15 corkage fee, while also taking note of the other good values to be had on the Simpatica wine list. Shortly after, a plate of steaming Braised Piedmontese Shortribs with handkerchief pasta, watercress, and arugula lands on the table. One bite and you know tese guys get meat and how to treat it. The shortrib meat taken off the bone and served alongside the perfectly done housemade pasta was everything a braised piece of beef should be. Tender, succulent, playing very well with the lightly dressed pasta and fresh greens. Each bite of beef and each sip of the Barolo only heightened the pleasure of each. Life was very good indeed.

SCENE 4: Finally, after all that, our stars are ready for dessert. He in particular was quite excited after seeing the Chocolate Panna Cotta with espresso-caramel sauce on the menu. He had many fond memories of perfectly jiggly panna cotta from a trip to Italy and a stellar version at Park Kitchen. From their seats by the kitchen, they could see the trays of custard being whisked to the plating area from the walkin. Then the panna cotta came to the table, and the crushing reality set in. They knew what panna cotta should look like:
This liquid pool was anything but:
Dripping lifelessly off of their spoons like too-sweet cocoa flavored cream, their expressions of shock and disbelief say it all. How could this have happened? Panna cotta shimmies like a go-go dancer. It doesn't drool like a demented old man. Plus, the delicately flavored drippy chocolate "custard" didn't stand a chance against the sticky sweet caramel sauce. They each take a couple of bites, then give up in sadness.

EPILOGUE: So would a sequel be a worthwhile investment? Absolutely. The first three courses were stellar, and the dinner offers real value at $35 a person. The service was excellent and friendly, and the panna cotta disaster must have been an aberration. They also decide that two couples are the perfect number, to avoid having to pay too much attention to the mind-numbing conversations of imperfect tablemates. The one other thing that seemed odd to them was arriving for dinner at 7:30 and being done...with four 9:00. The frenetic pace of food coming to the tables did take away a bit of the "relaxing over dinner out" feeling that most people (hopefully) want. An extra 30 minutes would have been perfect.
Simpatica Dining Hall on Urbanspoon
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Belon oysters are beyond wonderful!


booksense said...

Big fan of Simpatica - and am sorry to hear about the panna cotta course. My husband and I have eaten there twice, both times just the two of us (full disclosure - we ended up liking Simpatica so much we asked them to cater our wedding and they were a complete delight). Our tablemates on both occasions added so much to our meals - obviously not something one can depend on. In fact, we got along so well with one couple they ended up giving us a ride home from the restaurant! The affordability, variation, and (most importantly) stellar cooking put Simpatica at the top of a very short list. Thanks for your fun review.

kab said...

Great conceit...nicely done! And sorry about the dessert. I'll be writing up our mahhhvelous dinner at Autentica soon, without the disappointing ending!

bb said...

booksense....Thanks for your comment! That's exactly what I wanted to hear, and why I would go back again anytime. Like I said, too many people say great things, and I'm sure the ending was just a tragic mistake!

kab....thanks! And Autentica always satisfies. Can't wait to see what you have to say!

Emily said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now and love it. I'm a fellow Portlander and wondering if you would have any local recommendations for wedding catering in the area. We are actually getting married in the gorge near Hood River. We're not total foodies but want good stuff with a nice presentation. Any suggestions would be awesome!