While 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.
Aranchinis, oysters and fries
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.
Bangers and Mash
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.
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214