You think I've been starving and haven't had anything worth writing about? Think again. The real reason is I've been so busy eating that my hands have been covered with bacon fat and butter and my fingers keep slipping off the keyboard! Well, my hands are freshly scrubbed, I've put down the pork belly, and it's time to share a few choice bites around town....
The reinvention of Genoa was, along with the revamped Castagna, the most anticipated opening of the past year in Portland. With new owners who were promising to remake the tired, fusty interior and revamp its somewhat played menu I had been very anxious to see what happened. The opportunity came a couple of weeks ago when my sister and I were invited to be guests of Genoa for dinner. (disclaimer time: they paid for our dinner, but based on what I saw going to tables across the dining room I don't think they were putting any extra effort into our dinner). Since we didn't pay, I'm not making this a review, more of my impressions of what turned out to be a very impressive dinner.
The first thing you notice when you walk in the doors at Genoa is that this, to me, is a beautifully laid out dining room. With warm, soft lighting and tables just close enough together to provide an intimate sophisticated hum this doesn't feel like a Portland restaurant dining space. More New York-ish, and I really liked it. The menu offers a five course dinner for $55, which turns out to be quite a deal. Obviously not an everyday experience for most of us, but not quite in the splurge category either. You can also opt, as we did, for their wine pairing for an additional $35 (if they want to buy my dinner it seemed rude not to take advantage of their hospitality). For those who are wine pairing averse I took a look through the rather complete wine list and was surprised to see, along with the requisite high roller bottles for those who need to stroke their egos, an impressive selection of bottles priced at $35 or less, something you don't see too often at a restaurant that aspires to the heights Genoa is reaching for. With those decisions made, the plates started rolling out of new chef David Anderson's Italian kitchen. The highlights.....
- For starters an incredibly fresh crab bruschetta was delicious, especially good paired with the offered Loire valley sauvignon blanc.
- A second course of pasta. I chose the duck tortelli which was savory and satisfying. My sis made the better choice of an amazingly flavored wild mushroom fettucine, which is one of the best versions of this dish I've ever had. The earthy mushrooms were truly a revelation.
- After a decent salad course (unfortunately paired with a very tired 2005 Arneis white from Italy, a wine which is always meant to be consumed with the first year or two of life), entrées of Cattail Creek lamb riblets and a black cod fillets with mussels in a saffron broth were both supremely satisfying. The lamb was perfectly medium rare, succulent, and thankfully paired with a sensuous sweet potato sformato. The cod was moist and tender, and the whole dish came together beautifully.
- Dessert included a panna cotta, which so many places in Portland have ruined for me, that was light, perfectly set up with a topping of chopped pistachios. Also eaten with much enjoyment was a chocolate and hazelnut Cimabue, a palate pleasing mouthful of chantilly cream custard, meringue, and cocoa goodness. I also liked the offered sips of three different dessert wines which were part of the wine pairing.
All in all this was an excellent and auspicious dinner. Even at $55 a pop I would look forward to going back as often as my wallet would allow. Obviously David Anderson shed his Indian roots he planted at Vindalho and has slipped seamlessly into the Italian vernacular, which speaks volumes about his skill set. This is a place that we need to keep our eye on and is a welcome addition to PDX's Italian food scene.
Next door to Genoa is their more casual off shoot Accanto, which is a small plates style restaurant that I have only had a drink at. I thought the space itself was a little blah, and would be helped immensely by the removal of the jarring painting of a pipe-smoking woman that assaults your sense of good taste as soon as you walk in the door. I'm no art critic but...eeesh!
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As much as I lamented the passing of the cozy Cava spot on SE Foster Road, I have been salivating at the possibilities offered by the just opened Foster Burger (5339 SE Foster Road) which Sel Gris chef Daniel Mondok, Pok Pok honcho Andy Ricker, and Kurt Huffman have partnered to open. This burger bar (which may be PDX's answer to NY restaurateur Danny Meyer's ever expanding Shake Shack empire) opened last week, so of course w and I had to make our way over. We went last Saturday night, annxious to check out the offerings. The interior is somewhat changed from the Cava incarnation, and we hope that there are plans to put some warmth up on the very barren walls. When we sat in our booth we were informed that their temporary liquor license had expired, so no alcohol was on offer. Usually I would be traumatized by this sort of news but I was anxious to try their milkshakes. The burgers are hand formed from house ground beef (click here to see their menu) and were perfectly cooked & served atop a sesame bun made by the An Xuyen Vietnamese bakery next door. Loved that soft white bread bun, too! I had the housemade bacon and aged cheddar addition. w thought the "Foster Sauce" served on the bun was a little thick, but I liked its old school flavor and somewhat mess-inspiring effect. We both had the hand cut fries which were also excellent. Oh, before all this we started with their "The Wedge" salad. Be forewarned: this soon to be legendary salad is easily enough for 3, maybe 4, and consists of three quarter-wedges of iceberg lettuce with Gorgonzola, olive oil poached tomatoes, egg, croutons, Green goddess dressing and topped by a strip of fabulous house cured tesa, which is a pork belly-like slice of happiness and beats the hell out of Bacos! My chocolate shake was also done as I would expect, although w's malt was way too light on the "malt" flavor (almost non-existent). An easily corrected oversight, though. I loved the possibilities offered by F.B., am most happy it is a 5-minute drive from my house, and live in fear that there will soon be hordes of burger frenzied diners keeping me from my new addiction.