Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Bar Avignon; Alba Osteria; and chatter

For those of you who have reading along all this time, you know I have large amounts of respect for chef Kurt Spak's Alba Osteria out in SW Portland. If you haven't been clued in, you need to be, because this is, as w and I were reminded after dinner there this past Saturday, the best Italian food in town. We had another intensely satisfying meal, where Kurt's spot-on representation of Piedmontese cooking knocked us out. Just recounting the meal here makes me salivate for my next chance to go there....

Starting out, along with a couple of of glasses of fizzily refreshing prosecco, we had the Tartra of Heirloom Tomatoes, Taggiasca Olives, and Anchovy surrounded by a decadent pool of Salsa di Noce, a heavenly hazelnut sauce. The tart was perfect, sweetly fresh baked tomatoes set off by the salty pungency of the olives and anchovy, inside of a perfectly made crust. We also had the Halibut in Carpione, which was marinated halibut with a zucchini, tomato, and cucumber salad. Fresh, bright, the halibut in its citrus marinade matching perfectly with the lightly dressed veggies. This is a dish that takes a light touch, and it was executed exactly right.

Following that, we opted for the Ricotta Gnocchi with a cream sauce of chanterelle mushrooms, fresh corn, and pecorino. I've probably said it before, but AO's gnocchi are sublime. Soft, perfectly textured, pillowy bites of goodness, and the seasonal cream sauce was again very flavorful but light. Then we shared the magic that is Spak's Agnolotti del Plin, tiny stuffed pastas filled with veal, pork and rabbit tossed in a butter sauce. Impossibly delicate, they melt in your mouth, and it is amazing they can get them from water to table without falling apart. The agnolotti, which I've had stuffed with various fillings, are always a not-to-be-missed menu option.

After that primi, it was on to secondis, and in a fit if pasta overload, w decided she had to have Alba's Tajarin with a butter/sage sauce. Always the best version of these long, thin, ribbony noodles we've had outside of the Piedmont, this is another plate of fabulousness that never disappoints. I went carnivore with their Grilled Tails & Trotters Pork Loin Chop with a balsamic glaze and topped with a sliced, roast peach. This was fabulous stuff, the hazelnut finished Tails & Trotters chop tender, slightly pink in the middle, and juicy (our waiter Jeff said the don't even need to brine the T&T pork). The sliced peach on top was inspiration, and the surrounding polenta and a few glasses of a fabulous 1999 Ugo Lequio Barbaresco had me swooning.

The only disappointment was our dessert of Vanilla-Blueberry Crème Brulée. The blueberries under what would have been a silky crème on its own instead mixed with the cream, making it a bit of a soupy mess. But by that time we were so full and so satisfied that it was a minor letdown. Alba is closed through the 10th of September for vacation, so you'll have to delay your gratification for a bit, but when they reopen they'll have a new fall menu ready to roll out that I'm sure will provide untold pleasure for a helluva lot less than a ticket to Torino!

Also worth noting is that now Alba is offering their tajarin and ricotta gnocchi for retail sale. That has to be good news!
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You may have read this Oregonian piece about Bar Avignon's new chef Jeremy Eckel and the expanding menu at this cozy dining room on 22nd and SE Division. Owners Nancy Hunt and Randy Goodman (that's them at left in a pic from The Oregonian) have finally found the perfect person to take a spot that always provided great cocktails and an extremely well priced and varied wine list and ramp it up into what I now feel might be one of Portland's best spots to grab dinner. Nancy was telling us what she loved about Eckel was his love of all things seasonal in the chef's bounty that is Portland. She said his eyes just light up when she brings in her latest farmer's market finds, and we saw that same dreamy look in his eyes when he was explaining to us what he going to do with a batch of fresh sardines he was salting. You can tell when someone is into it, and this guy has it bad!

We went last Friday, dug our forks into some of Eckel's creations, and came away dying to return. We started with Wild Boar Ribs with a spicy-sweet peach barbeque sauce that are perhaps the ultimate bar snack. A Chilled Sweet Corn Soup topped with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt was so richly flavored, yet light, made with a vegetable stock. We followed that promising start with Fideus, which are short Portuguese-style noodles (think broken spaghetti) in a sauce of summer squash and chard with a soft baked egg attractively situated right in the middle. Something you have to have if it still on the menu is his roasted Chicken with baby artichokes, pacha beans, and aioli. I don't order chicken out very often, because I make various kickass dishes myself at home, but Eckel's chicken was fabulous. A half chicken that is bursting with juicy flavor, and the whole plate just screams of the summer season.

This food is seriously good, the vibe at BA is incredibly comfortable, and the prices are ridiculously cheap, with everything above ranging from $7 to $14. Add on to that some bargain priced wines and you have the ultimate cheap date that will satisfy your wallet and leave your palate breathless, which is pretty much what we're all looking for, isn't it?

You can also buy most of the wines off the wine list to go for 25% off, and be sure to check out Randy's Saturday afternoon free wine tastings at the back table!
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CHATTER: This article in last week's New York Times Dining Section was all about the hotdogueros of Tucson who peddle griddled bacon wrapped hot dogs topped with taco seasonings. I read this, immediately wanted to book a plane to Arizona to taste these wonders, then came up with a much more economical solution. I walked across the street from the wine shack to Kiko's Taqueria Uruapan and handed Enrique a copy of the Times story and inquired (through his son) if he might consider adding this to his repertoire. He gave me the look I immediately recognized as the same look I give people who suggest ways to improve my business. So when I checked with his son the next day to see what they though, he said they are probably going to be offering them up this Saturday at their cart on SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood. I was overjoyed, until I suddenly realized I'm leaving on vacation early that morning. But being altruistic as ever, rather than bitterly keeping this nugget to myself, I offer it to you and hope you will take advantage of what I will sorely be missing.
Word on the street has it that Donald Kotler, owner of the deliciously cute place Toast on SE 52nd is working on financing to open another spot at the very cool space that was formerly CAVA on SE 53rd and Foster Road. No word on what his plans are, but I can only hope this comes through, because I love his act at Toast.
A sampling Oregon pinot noirs and commentary on the NYT site by writer Eric Asimov. The main point seeming to be to talk about how the young Oregon wine industry is more informed by winemaker choices rather than the elusive terroir that makes France's Burgundy region what it is. Not surprising, and can't say I disagree, but it is too bad their tasting is limited by the availability in their local market, which would leave most of America to believe that Oregon pinot noir at this stage is hardly worth the investment. With that I couldn't disagree more, and I only wish they could sample the very reasonably priced offerings from J. Christopher, Cameron, Grochau, Broadley, and others.
Click here to check out the info on the upcoming "Going Whole Hog Class with Morgan Brownlow and Aaron Silverman of Tails & Trotters" at Luan Schooler's appetite inspiring Foster and Dobb's food emporium on NE 15th. For what seems a quite reasonable $20 you get a class from two pork know-it-alls who will discuss "...the European style of butchering. They will also explain the best ways to use various cuts of pork in the home kitchen and share their experiences raising the pigs." I'm guessing snacking will somehow be involved. Sounds yummy!
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The Guilty Carnivore said...

Bacon-wrapped hotdogs, eh ( I grew up in Tucson)? Too bad I'm having oral surgery this week.

I'm quite certain a Sonoran style dog cart would do gangbusters here. if there are people who drink, there is a market.

bb said...

GC...Although I feel your coming discomfort, it is selfishly reassuring to know that I am not alone in missing out on what may be a truly memorable cart moment.

The Accidental Expat said...

Grüß Gott bb: I've sent my father on assignment-- My folks currently live in Tucson, they are former New Yorkers who know from hot dogs (Sabretts anyone??), and the man lurves his pork. I sent him the linked article, and I'll certainly let you know his findings.


Amy said...

BB - I really enjoyed what you had to say about Bar Avignon. I'm the marketing director for the real estate company that owns the building that they are in, and I'd love to use your article in our upcoming newsletter.

Let me know what you think.


bb said...

Hi Amy...feel free to poach away. Thanks for thinking of my post on this. the more good pub for B.A. the better! I love what you guys have done with that building, by the way!