Ava Gene

Ava Gene was one of the few restaurants that impressed Perpetually Underwhelmed during her time in Portland.  Obviously, that is saying something given her name.  Zhu Zhu Hamster sang the restaurant’s praises.  It was the first restaurant I wanted to try during my summer visit to my old city.  The weather left much to be desired, what with the normally hot sunny summer temps replaced by the standard Portlandian doom and gloom.  On the flip side, the experience at Ava Gene was more than we expected.  First of all, we did not have reservations but were able to walk in during prime dinner hours on a Friday and snag a table due to a last minute cancellation.  We were pretty stoked at our luck because it probably would have been over an hour wait otherwise.
 
Pane fresh sheep cheese, tomatoes, basil

Our waitress recommended this from the bread selection.  So simple, so balanced, so delectable.  Bravo!

Gnocco Fritto prosciutto, parmigiano, saba

I had this another time at Tasting Kitchen.  The more I eat it, the more I liked it.  My dining companions, Zhu Zhu Hamster, Little Pet, and Decidedly Undecided didn’t speak one way or the other on this dish.  I imagine it was strange to them, as it was to me when I first tried it.  Hard to go wrong with fried dough and meat.  I liked the light drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which added a subtle sweet sour note.

Tre Scelte Dai Giardini

cucumber, peach, celtuce, colatura, hazelnuts
tomatoes, melon, jalapeño, mint, cashews
carrots, radish, avocado, pumpkin seeds, ricotta salata

I’m pretty disappointed the picture turned out so poorly here, because these were quite the highlight of the dinner.  Meat and seafood is usually what excites me, but when vegetables are done really well it’s easy to ignore the lack of multi-legged protein.  We all had our favorites.  Personally I loved the tomatoes and melon salad with the mint and hint of fish sauce.  It reminded of a Thai salad.  And, whoever thought cucumbers and peaches would go together??  The soft buttery avocado was the perfect balance to the crunch sweet and slightly bitter carrots and radish respectively.  The reason these salads were so memorable was the varying textures, which is key to any great salad, but also because of the creativity.  They combined things I never knew could taste well together.  Yums!

 
Farro Orecchiete sausage, chanterelles, zucchini

Al dente pasta.  Solid flavor and ingredient combinations.

Tagliatelle lamb and pork ragu in bianco, greens

I’m not sure if I like wide pastas.  The texture comes off a bit too al dente sometimes.  All in all, this was still meaty without being too heavy.

Squid Ink Linguini shrimp, shelling peas, nduja

I had high hopes for this dish, especially since Zhu Zhu Hamster and Little Pet said this was a must.  The seafood taste was too strong, and not in a good way.  I did not like the chintzy little bay shrimps.  Give me prawns!

Rib Eye pole beans, maitake, anchovy butter, parmigiano

I should really stop ordering second courses at Italian places.  Almost always a bit of a let down after the pastas.  This was tasty but not all that special compared to the pastas.

Overall, Ava Gene was solid, but not the home run I was expecting especially after Perpetually Underwhelmed’s ringing endorsement.  The pane and salads were the unexpected highlight of the meal and would love to come back here to try all the other options.  I’ve had better pastas elsewhere, but they still did a nice job. The pastas were very well made.  I think Zhu Zhu Hamster and Little Pet agreed that the evenings offerings fell a little short from their previous visits.  So I would come back again if someone wanted to try the place just to give the place another shot.  I’m sure the pastas could be better.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome!
8 – Very good
7 – Good 
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here

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