On the east side of Portland, where Burnside intersects with 28th, there are a slew of little cute establishments. You’ve got Crema, some food carts, Paadee, Laurelhurst theater (my favorite movie theater in town), Tabla, and even Ken’s Pizza if you go a couple blocks south. But my favorite one by far is the European looking Navarre, with about 30 seats, produce, jarred pickled veggies, and wine covering almost every surface, and the menu scrawled on the front window. Let me tell you though, writing the menu on the window cannot be an easy feat, as the menu is easily 30 items long and changes regularly. How regularly? 90% of the produce used at Navarre is grown within city limits (according to the latest issue of Portland Monthly).
How I ever decided to go to Navarre for the first time is beyond me. I usually steer clear of places that don’t have a website. I know, I know, it’s incredibly biased. But speaking as one that does extensive restaurant research before I visit a spot, I really don’t like it when restaurants don’t have websites. In an age when that’s where everyone gets their information, why not? They do have a blog, but I just don’t really feel like the blog does their food justice and they don’t post very regularly.
But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? Their food! Oh the food. Let me tell you. You know that fad of “simple cooking”? This is the absolute best “simple” food I have ever had. Vegetables roasted with simple herbs or dressings and meat and fish expertly cooked in such a way that the flavors are magnified. As you can see on the menu pictured above, they always have 2 menus – the staples: things like bread, salami, gratin, fish, bird, and pork. You have to ask to find out what bird and how it’s cooked, or what vegetable they’re using for the gratin this evening. And on the second menu are all of the specials. Then you fill out the first menu with a marker (gotta love restaurants that give you markers), writing which specials you want and marking whether you want small or large plates of whatever you decide to order. They recommend about 3 small plates per person, which is perfect. I especially liked it because, between Jonah and myself, we got to try 6 different dishes instead of 2 mains and an appetizer that we would usually get at any other restaurant.
While I have been for brunch, which was delicious, I like the ambiance a little more at dinner time. The lights are a little bit lower, the candles are lit, and you get to enjoy wine from their pretty extensive list (given the size of the place). Some of my favorite dishes that I’ve had for dinner include but are not limited to: mushrooms roasted with rosemary, kohlrabi roasted with mustard and brown sugar, delicata squash roasted with butter, trout in parchment, cabbage gratin… the list goes on. Everything is prepared so well, so simply. Perhaps my favorite thing about Navarre is that I find it inspiring. Because the preparations are simple, I feel like I can go home and replicate them, which I love.
All in all, Navarre is definitely one of my top picks for places to dine in Portland. I think the perfect word to describe it is lovely. A lovely spot with lovely food. Try it out, but don’t spread the word too far. The other thing I love about this place is that I never have to wait for a table 😉