Tag: Cafe Castagna

My Picks for Portland Dining Month 2015

Portland Dining Month | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Wow, it’s almost March. Which translates to: wow, it’s almost Portland Dining Month! This event put on by Travel Portland is always a favorite of mine, a chance to get out and try multiple courses from some of the city’s awesome restaurants for just $29. So, where are you going to go? You can see my picks below, and you can read about all the restaurants participating and their menus here.

Here are some I’m itching to make it to:

23 Hoyt: I’ve always been a fan of 23 Hoyt’s happy hour, and this seems like an expanded version of that. With two choices for each course (all savory, no dessert), you’ll have plenty of options.

Aviary: One of my absolute favorite restaurants in Portland. Delicious northwest food with an Asian bent, plus the bonus of friendly awesome service. And two choices for every course!

Cafe Castagna: The recently revamped menu recently left my tastebuds happy with middle eastern flavors. Read more here. Then go to there.

Departure: Somehow, I still haven’t been to Departure. How? Maybe dining month is the time to start. Mango salad, shrimp dumplings, chicken tonkatsu, and carrot cake all get my tastebuds tingling.

Imperial: Come on, you know you want to try Doug Adams’ PBR braised pork…

Lincoln: Jenn Louis is releasing a cookbook all about making pasta. So get in here and try some from the master.

Little Bird Bistro: I’ve always really enjoyed this downtown spot, and they’ve got lots of options to choose from on their dining month menu. I’d pick the gnocchi, the trout, and… I’m still deciding on dessert.

Ned Ludd: I love Ned Ludd’s delicious food and comforting atmosphere. I’d lean towards the charred broccoli raab for my first and the chicken breast for the second (though the vegetable gratin sounds awesome too).

Paley’s Place: Of course this Portland institution is on my list. There aren’t vegetarian options, but everything looks very tasty for us meat eaters. Elk for dinner? Um, yes.

Smallwares: I love Smallwares’ spin on Asian food – a true, funky, fusion restaurant. We went a few months ago and the food was really on point (as were the cocktails, I might add).

Tabla: If you are in the mood for some seriously tasty fresh pasta, I recommend Tabla. A well-kept secret on the east side, they’ve got multiple options for each course. Duck tortellini, anyone?

Xico: Octopus ceviche? Chicken in black, burnt-chili seasoning? Gosh that sounds tasty. Plus a carrot cake from pastry chef Mindy Keith.

Where are you going to go? Check out these other blogs for more PDM tips and picks: Pechluck’s Food Adventures, Martha Chartreuse, and Bakery Bingo.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna

Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie FasslerRestaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Ok, so it’s been over a month since you’ve heard from me. I could apologize, but let’s get real: holidays are busy, I’m working 3 jobs (one of them is new and a little nerdy and I’m really excited about it), and life is…well, busy. I think something I’m realizing as I start to settle into adulthood that busy is just a constant state of being – you can use it as an excuse, I guess, but really, everyone is experiencing it all the time. Even Jonah’s grandma emailed him this week saying she didn’t have time to respond to his email at the moment – she was too busy. What that tells me is that it doesn’t stop, even when you’re a grandma.

But last week I got the perfect opportunity to slow down for an evening. After slowing down a little on blogging and blogger events, I got the chance to dine at a restaurant I’ve been aching to try since they launched a completely new, Middle Eastern-inspired menu: Cafe Castagna. An invitation from Watershed Communications led me to an evening with blogger friends new and old (Erin from Bakery Bingo, Michelle from Hummingbird High, and Beth from Talk Eat Drink Portland) for a beautiful family style meal.

Last summer, Cafe Castagna revamped their menu, with Chef Wesley Johnson at the helm. Johnson has previously cooked at Philadelphia based Zahav, as well as Portland’s Levant, and has spent time in Israel. His knowledge of Middle Eastern flavors was powerful, as he showcased ingredients that are quickly becoming more common in American kitchens, like za’atar, harissa, and labneh. Recently, they’ve added a family style component to the menu as well: for either $30 or $40 per person in the party, the kitchen will determine your culinary fate.

After deciding on beverages (I started with the Sketches of Spain cocktail, and the table shared a bottle of Arneis from the Piedmont region) and a visit from Chef Johnson to tell our table about his background and the dishes we’d be eating, we settled in to enjoy the journey.

Onto the main courses (and the sides that came with): Plump and perfectly al dente agnolotti filled with a celery root and parmesan purée, accompanied by black trumpet mushrooms and aleppo pepper flakes. A zingy citrus salad with grapefruit, meyer lemon, and orange slices doused in a ginger syrup, sprinkled with charred garlic and basil. Carrots cooked my favorite way: within an inch of their life, caramelized to perfection, topped with zhoug (a spice paste) and feta.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Restaurant Review: Cafe Castagna | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

While our table was completely covered in plates TWICE, I want to focus on my favorite dishes from the evening. The starters were all spectacular, but I had three favorites: fried panissa with harissa and aioli, flatbread with various spreads, and the pickles. Panissa is a chickpea dough that is often fried – at our meal it came in the shape of some very large french fries, with some harissa and some aioli for dipping. It was creamy and luscious and perfectly crispy on the outside. The flatbread was seasoned with za’atar and came with three rich dips: a rich chicken liver mousse, a smooth labneh swirled with harissa for a bit of punch, and a Turkish hummus. When eating rich foods like these, I love having some tart pickles to clean the palate and offer a bit of brightness.

But there’s more: Rabbit, both fried like chicken and forcemeat, served on a bed of fluffy, crunchy traditional wedding rice that was flecked with pistachios and golden raisins. A buttery lamb neck, meat falling off the bone, with stewed chickpeas and carrots. A beautiful whole trout draped in swathes of tabbouleh, tahini sauce, and plummy pomegranate arils.

After realizing that, while my eyes were still feasting, my stomach could not take another bite, we were offered a brief pause before a perfect end to the meal: a profiterole filled with halvah ice cream, garnished with candied walnuts, honey, and more aleppo pepper flakes. It was light, smooth, crunchy, and cold – a refreshing end to an adventurous, unique meal.

I highly recommend making your way over to Cafe Castagna to enjoy Chef Johnson’s new menu, the even newer family style meal, and the $45 wine list. Your tastebuds will thank you!