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new american

American Nouveau/ dinner/ travels

Castagna: Playful Fine Dining in Portland

I love Portland. It is a magical land of eats, microcrews, hikes and no sales tax which activates the inner consumer in me. Stuff, for LESS? Yes, count me in.

There are many great deals in Portland, and one of them is at a New American restaurant called Castagna. Not many institutions there where there are of a white-cloth dining experience – it’s certainly more about the hipster casual – so Castagna naturally stands out from the crowd. With an offering of $98 or $155 tasting menus (the price varies based on number of courses you receive), I find it a steal. Hopefully this posts shows you why. **There will be many photos. Be ready to scroll.**

Let’s start off with snacks – which is arguably one of the best ways to ever start a meal. There are many of them that whetted my appetite. These delicious small bites made me sit back and think, “Wow if this is the way it’s beginning, I can only anticipate what will come…”

Beet chip with foie gras cream. Creamy and crunchy. Please sir, can i have some more?

Their house made bread comes with two spreads – smoked pork lard and butter. I enjoyed slathering these different spreads across the warm wheat rolls. As to which one was better? That’s a hard one (and still can’t answer that question).

This is what they described as an “adult version of a fruit roll-up“, which was very good and unfortunately did not note down what was in it. I’m ashamed, mostly because I can’t properly describe how tasty this was.

Oysters so beautifully plated, and tastefully balanced.

Now, we venture into the course section of the night:

Peas, agastache and goat’s butter served in a small porcelain cup and a mother-of-pearl spoon. Was it as delicious as described? Hell yes, and every bit as luxurious as you’d think too.

This egg-looking dish is actually centered around asparagus, reminding you of the spring time.

Okay, I know this isn’t the best photo of what a scallop is, but this is a marinated scallop indeed. A few bites, and wish I had a bit more to be able to evaluate my feelings for the dish; it was fresh and mildly sweet.

Beet with black garlic powder and maltaise (aka hollandaise sauce), which was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Not only did the beet feel meaty, but also melded with the sauces and dust.

Morels with fiddlehead fern, and a few other beautiful things. Earthy and rustic, a small bite of something slightly heavy easing into the next course.

Culotte with oyster leaf was sadly, the only point in the night where I wasn’t satisfied. The meat was chewy, but not in a very pleasant flavorful way, which took away from the other parts of the dish.

Another one of the most impressive dishes of the night was the frozen rhubarb with black olive and vanilla sitting underneath. The combination of these flavors and textures made me come alive, and wonder for the next 30 minutes how this exact dish was formulated…and I’m still wondering.

Toast with strawberries and milk makes the last official course of the night, and what more comforting than those ingredients. The sharp-edged milk shardes poking into the strawberry ice cream and toast crumbs left you feeling like you can sit back and relax in ease, like giving out the last hug of the night.

Chocolates rounded out the night, with hazelnuts and sea salt. Who could say no to that?

Castagna plays around with seasonal ingredients, using different textures and preparation methods to have you think twice about each dish. Each bite makes you ask more – the whys and whats – and that’s what I love to do when I eat. Let curiosity flow, and enjoy your full blown thoughtful dining experience there.

Castagna
1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97214
Reservations

American Nouveau/ dinner/ San Francisco

Stones Throw: Let’s Keep Talking

Stones Throw is not a restaurant that has an identity crisis. They know exactly who they are, head-to-toe: from each table to each dish to each guest. Stones Throw is a thoughtful, playful and comfortable restaurant; it’s like kind of boyfriend you wish you can be around with all the time.

This is a place where they notice the small things. Diners are not overlooked. Each staff member understands their role and how it plays into making a great dining experience for you. Baby, it’s all about you – they let you take your drink back if you don’t like it; they write you a message if you’re celebrating a special occasion; they even let you provide ideas for dessert and invite you back if they make it. These are the little twists define Stones Throw as an establishment that goes above and beyond.

They make the meal a dialogue, starting with them, and what they want you to understand about California and its great produce.

They started with a big “HEY” – their puffed potatoes were amazing. Every bite came with a pleasant surprise of an egg so the yolk oozed out when I pierced it with my fork. OOZED. The cauliflower mousse, chives and crispy chicken skin added textural elements that created one holistic delicious bite. It had me wanting more so there’s a good chance I would go have a seat at their bar JUST to have this dish.

The Five Peas in a Pod felt as though it was springtime on a plate, as you can see from above, it looked as if greens were growing out of the piece of brioche. Personally, I had a hard time eating the dish. Aside from munching through fibrous vegetable, the drops of preserved lemon and ricotta couldn’t helped subdue the leafy greens and strong mint flavor.

You’ve heard me be particular about my pastas, and this one sits in the upper-middle range of what I like; each component of the Squid Ink Conchiglie (seashell) pasta was cooked well. It was served with spicy capers, clams, calamari, shrimp and tender greens.

Pork belly, pig’s ears, rilettes – it was all in one dish, and served with charred onion and sunflower seeds. Every main component was pork, but they were able to make the dish interesting. It showcased all the different textures that can come from the same animal – crunchy, soft, and smooth. My favorite of them all? The crispy pig ears.

Utter comfort is now I would describe this sweet corn soup. Alongside many other corn soups that I have had – it was warm, not creamy and silky. What is there not to love about a soup like this?

In a similar vein of the pork dish, the duo of beef ribeye and braised short rib was a great juxtaposition of the same meat cooked in two different ways. The short rib meat fell off the bone – I love it when that happens. However it was the fava croquettes to me stood out for me. They were lightly fried, creamy, and had a mellow flavor which merged nicely together with the beef.

Liberty Farms duck breast tasted as good as it looked, and to me was my favorite main entree. It was tender, juicy, and had just the right amount of fat. Hidden in that pile of delicious corn is a tamale filled with duck confit meat. The cherries gave the dish a nice touch of sweet tartness to every bite I took of the meat.

The conversation wasn’t one-way; Stones Throw invites you to “talk” back, or in this case write, about where you want to be taken back to with this question. MMM…indeed. As I thought through this prompt, I looked more carefully at the dessert menu. Now this gets even more interesting. Dessert was a mini history lesson where there weren’t descriptions on the menu; rather they provided a brief history lesson (i.e. “In 1901 the Boston Cooking School Magazine first referenced peanut butter paired with jelly on bread”).

I went on to notice how each dessert listed was a childhood staple such as Funfetti or key lime pie. My mind was intrigued – how can you remake these to being just as good or better? Reinvention of these items that we place so closely to our hearts requires distilling what make these desserts great, and reinterpret it in a different way so that it’s both new and old.

Their key lime pie dessert was delicious, and not just because of the pie. First off, the pie itself was not too sweet nor tart, and a great pie to crust ratio. Secondly, the sorbet brought in a cold element without being overbearing on being able to taste the lime from the pie. Let’s not forget the meringue which provided that touch of cream (without the flavor of anything else but light cream), and was what you looked for to round out a fulfilling slice of key lime pie.

They broke down the elements of an Oreo – chocolate cookie and cream – that included strawberry, white chocolate, and even fruit roll-up. I gasped, knowing that all of these components were “homemade” in a way – at least not made by Nabisco. Everything on that plate was delicious, apart and together, and similar to the key lime pie, was sweet but not overly so. Reinvention success here? YES.

I was sad to end this meal, this conversation that I was having with them, but then I realized that I could always come back. I can have more! Just like that great boyfriend who shares who they are, what inspires them, and wants to know know you more, Stones Throw fills those shoes and will happily have you back.

Stones Throw
1896 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 796-2901
Reservations

American Nouveau/ dinner

Piora: A Restaurant of Unexpected Flavors

Piora is truly representative of what New American cuisine is; with an Italian-American chef and a Korean-American owner, you see the influences of each in the food that is produced here.

Their culinary backgrounds – chef from Tenpenny and owner from Jean-Georges – definitely put this place on the West Village map. Also reading article after article about Piora’s monkey bread, two foodies – ChubbyChineseGirl and Vonatron from Socially Superlative, and I gathered together, ready to eat to see if the hype was worth it.

Monkey bread served with seaweed butter and whipped lardo was served warm (which is my most favorite way to serve bread) and nicely salted. I really enjoyed this, and would definitely come back for more.

Scallop served with sweet corn, chanterelle and crispy chicken skin is pictured above. The scallops were cooked nicely. As for the other elements, I had a hard time finding how they came together.

This dish – duck confit served with early grey, plum and cucumber – was unexpected namely because it came out like a cake, and I don’t remember tasting the plum altogether. I’m not sure if I would order it again but it was at least interesting to see the interpretation of these flavors.

Their sunchokes were really good, served with saba and hazelnut. It was well seasoned and definitely tasty.

The bucatini with black garlic, dungeness crab, maitake and chili topped with scallion was a bit salty for me. I didn’t really taste too much of the crab but at least the pasta was cooked well.

Their suckling pig served with radish, burdock and apple was good. The meat falls apart, which is always a good sign, and the sauce served with it was well paired.

We ended the meal with the cotton cheesecake served with strawberry and basil. It was light, and a pretty straightforward dessert.

Even though I didn’t find all the things at Piora especially tasty, it’s still a good place to go to on a date (definitely has a nice dining area) and try their dishes that comprise of various interesting ingredient combinations. If anything, I would go back for their monkey bread – it’s definitely worth ordering that on a cold winter night.

Piora
430 Hudson Street (near Morton St.)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 960-3801
http://www.pioranyc.com/