Castagna

As I’ve said before, Portland’s dining scene can be summarized as seasonal local ingredients prepared deliciously without the frills, gimmicks, and pretention as you might experience in LA.  It’s just good food that makes you feel really warm and comforted inside.   Castagna doesn’t really fit the mold of your typical Portland restaurant.  It’s modernist cuisine with techniques that are far beyond simple prep, braising, stewing, grilling, etc.  It’s the kind of complex preparation, presentation, and plating that makes you think twice about whether what you’re putting in your piehole is actually going to be tasty or not.

Zhu Zhu Hamster made reservations for Castagna but did not realize it was a pre fixe menu and tried to make a last minute switch to Castagna Cafe, its next door, more casual sister restaurant.  Unfortunately, there was a wait, I was too hungry, and the menu looked pretty uninteresting.  So Zhu Zhu Hamster, Little Pet, Dumpling Man, and myself walked back over to Castagna and we actually had to wait while the staff chose from the one of MANY open tables to seat us at.  I was like, “SERIOULY?! SERIOUSLY?!”  Ok, maybe many of those open tables were reserved for a later seating…they were NOT.  Anyways, it was not a big deal, just something comical.

Amuse Bouch chicken liver pate on house made rye cracker

I should have taken a wide shot of the presentation of this.  It came as 4 little cracker bites perched precariously on long branches.   The pate was quite smooth, almost mousse like, while the rye cracker presented a contrasting crunch.  A nice bite, but the cracker had too much texture.  A little too “multi grain” if ya know what I mean.

Cauliflower Mousse pickled orange, parmesan truffle granola.

Talk about a complex treat from the kitchen.  The mousse could have been smoother, but tasted very distinctly of cauliflower.  It had a very savory vegetal taste.  The pickled orange packed a punch of course.  Now that granola was different if not strange.   It was a bit on the dry side, kinda like how the rye cracker was dry.  The parmesan and truffle were just subtle hints.  Overall the bite was nice, but I couldn’t find the harmony in it.

Beignet gruyere, mustard

The kitchen was quite generous that night! Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans ignited my love for beignets, over 15 years ago.  Since then, I’ve never been able to find a beignet that could match up, sweet or savory.  I wish these beignets were served hot, if not just a little warm, but these were room temp.  Texture wise they were light and airy.  Flavor wise, the gruyere was interesting, but the mustard was out of left field.  It was like the beignets were rolled in a powder form of mustard.  It had that sort of heat that goes straight to your nose with a mild sweetness.  I can surely say I’ve never had mustard take this form.  Dumpling Man was a fan, but I just couldn’t get over the room temperature nature.

Bread smoked pork fat, salted butter

These were some of the best accompaniments I’ve had with bread in a while.  The butter had a sweet creaminess with some bacon crumblings on top.  And that smoked pork fat, which essentially tasted like solidified bacon drippings.  Well I think that’s all the description needed.  I was slathering it all over the bread, which really served as a vehicle to get that stuff into my mouth.  Yum!

Cauliflower in various textures, oyster, oxalis

Now onto the actual pre fixe courses!  Not the most exciting dish by its description, but it turned out to be quite surprising.  I cannot describe all the varying textures, but there was raw, charred, pickled, blanched, pureed.  The oyster was oh-so-small but paired nicely with its briny sweetness against the vegetal sweetness.

Crab green apple, meyer lemon and lime mint 

The portions of the food was quite delicate so you were forced to be really mindful of the food and how it all tasted together.  The dish was very refreshing with the fresh crab and really tart citrusy components.  I think the dark pieces are crackers or chips.

Sunchokes sweet garlic consommé, grilled leeks, chervil stems

Another strange, almost unappetizing dish, but it was surprisingly good.  I’ve never really had sunchokes when it wasn’t pureed, so it was interesting to have them whole.  It’s like a really soft tender potato.  The grilled leeks were another delicate subtle addition.

Chanterelle charred chicken jus, fresh walnuts, dried fruit

I didn’t have any of this, but I think Little Pet liked it.

Pork hazelnut butter, turnips, pears

A well done piece of pork, but I can’t remember all the details.

Beef potatoes, onions, flavor of charcoal

This was an elevated form of your standard beef and potatoes.  The meat was a perfect medium rare and it had a nice salty char.  The potatoes, onions, and crunchy red thing were all nice accompaniments.

Toffee Ice Cream frosted cranberries, dried roots

The ice cream had nice flavor, but the texture could have been smoother.  I really liked the frosted cranberries that had such an interesting indescribable texture.  There were also mini macarons for a different dimension of sweetness and texture.

Apple Potpourri rose geranium

The dessert probably looks more like art than something edible but it was a unanimous favorite at the table.  It was reminiscent of the “cauliflower in various textures” dishes.  There were dried apples, baked apples, apple cake? freeze dried somethings, maybe rose petals?

Orange white chocolate, olive oil, bergamot

This was a more standard dessert with a pretty standard cake, flavored with orange and topped with a sugary orange crispy thing.  The olive oil added a different sort of richness.

Mignardises

Chocolate caramel something or anothers.  Very tasty, with just that teeny bit of sea salt.  Seems like any dessert gets extra points for sea salt.

I’ll have to admit that my description of most of the dishes was pretty poor.  Part of it is that my memory is not that great, but the larger part is that dishes are far too complex than what my simple vocabulary can describe.  The menu descriptions simply do not do justice to the intricacies and interplay of ingredients.  And I guess you’ll just to trust me when I say the food tasted better than it looked.  I give Castagna props for treading in waters that most Portland restaurants do not.  It’s unique in that respect.  On the grand spectrum of restaurants in this style, I could probably say others do a better job.  Somehow I just was not WOW-ed, but I was definitely impressed.  $65 for 4 courses ain’t too shabby considering we got 3 free bites from the kitchen.  We were pretty darn stuffed by the end of it all.   Come here for an elegant, interesting experience.  Come here if you want to feel like your NOT in Portland, which sometimes I want to feel like that.  No offense Portland.

Castagna

1752 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214

(I think I’m gonna stop embedding the Google map in my posts.  Holla at me if this will severely affect your life and cause you to plunge into a deep depression and maybe I’ll add it back.)

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