Bitter Salty Experience: Cafe Castagna, Portland

castagna-frontWhile I love the sunny Southern California weather, I sometime crave the cool, crisp air of the Pacific Northwest. And the food. Don’t get me started on food.

For me, the fresh, seasonal organic dishes of the Northwest — that allow you to enjoy the food at its purest and finest form — is what cooking and eating is all about.  My body even yearns for it if I don’t get a dose of it regularly, as if I’m drowning and my life depended on the gasp of fresh oysters on half shell.  It was like someone tossed me a buoy when I was given a chance to visit Portland for business.  So I quickly extended the trip a few days to spend the Memorial Day weekend with my best friend, Maya, and her lovely family, to catch up and explore all the cullinary treasures this place has to offer.

With that said, my expectation for Café Castagna was high, given that this local favorite has earned numerous recognitions, including Best Burger.  Perhaps that was the problem that I don’t eat burgers (or that Carl’s Jr. ranked as #2 on this poll) because the food I experienced here was mediocre at best.

We began the night with the oysters (to calm my cravings), aranchinis, little fried risotto balls with cheese in the center that resemble little oranges, steamed mussels and a plateful of fries. The oysters tasted like ocean and the grated fresh horseradish added a great kick to the flavor, but they weren’t extraordinary. I wished they made the rice balls with more well-seasoned risotto for the aranchinis, instead of the bland, flavorless rice. Fries were probably the best dish here, which, unfortunately, says a lot about the entire dining experience.

castagna-appetizer

Aranchinis, oysters and fries

castagna-mussel

Steamed Mussels

castagna-asparagus-soup

Asparagus Soup

What was most disappointing was the plate of orecchiette, a petite ear-like pasta, tossed with bitter broccoli rabe and breadcrumbs, with a sprinkle with cheese, that I ordered for dinner. It was even recommended by our server as her “favorite.”  The dish was so salty that I couldn’t get past the first bite. I hate to take the food back but it was absolutely not edible so I asked the server to remake it with less salt, and all I got back was the same, salty pasta, with a little side of attitude.  It was so bad that I didn’t even bother taking pictures.

castagna-banger-and-mash

Bangers and Mash

castagna-cod

Cod

I was bummed about my dinner (or lack thereof) and left the restaurant still hungry and unsatisfied, but it seems like everyone else’s weren’t bad.  But it was a general consensus that the entire dining experience at Café Castagna was just okay, and not the perfect representation of the culinary-rich Downtown Portland restaurant scene. But that’s okay because I still had fun with great friends, and still have a few days in Portland to cut the losses and get back into the gluttony game.

Café Castagna
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214
★★★☆☆

Welcome to the Northwest: Paley’s Place in Portland, OR

My work sends me to Portland, Oregon often, and despite the fact that it rains more than six months out of the year, I’m not complaining. The varieties of Pacific Northwest cuisine I get to experience during my stay compensates for the miserable, gloomy days.

I’m not really sure how to properly explain this emerging cuisine expect to say that it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite American cuisines of all time. The menus consist of locally- grown organic fruits, vegetables and berries, and fresh seafood plays as the centerpiece of all meals. Selections of wine is something to gush over too, and although I don’t usually order white wines much back home, local white wines always make it to the table whenever I’m here.

Paley’s Place in Portland pretty much sums up all the wonders and beauty that is Pacific Northwest cuisine. Located in Downtown’s 21st Street, this 50-seat restaurant is a Victorian-house–converted joint that offers Oregonians with familiar yet sophisticated dishes sure to satisfy even the pickiest eater.

What I love so much about this restaurant is that it offers half order for most of dinner plates, which gives us indecisive food lovers the opportunity to try new things without going into food coma (or broke).

My epicurean partner-in-crime and I began our culinary adventure with the bottle of 2006 Adelsheim, Auxerrois from Willamette Valley, a white wine which has the wonderful floral scent. It was neither too dry nor too sweet, and it went well with every dish we ordered.

We ordered fresh oysters (pictured above) to start. And here’s the rest of our lovely dinner! Aaah, heaven!

kobe-beef-tartar

American Kobe Beef Steak Tartare & Traditional Accompaniments

paley-ravoili

Pumpkin and hazelnut mezzuluna

Fried Razor Clams, Spaghetti Squash, Bacon-Wrapped Treviso & Bacon Hollandaise

shrimp

Blackened Spot Prawns, Fall Vegetable Medley & Grilled Lemon

huckleberry

This night’s special, a warm poundcake with huckleberry jam (sorry, it has a more fancy name but I can’t remeber!).

Because chefs here use fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, the menu changes every season. Just knowing that you may never have the opportunity to try these heavenly dishes again, it makes you savor every bite. Seriously, this is one of the best food I’ve ever experienced in my life!

Paley’s Place: 1204 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209

★★★★★