(Food) Marathon Weekend Part 1: Park Kitchen

My fiancé and I spent a lovely three-day weekend in Portland. We flew there for my half marathon but really, that was only an excuse to go visit my best friend Maya and enjoy the wonderful cuisines of the Pacific Northwest. lol There is nothing more wonderful than fresh, locally-grown organic produces of autumn exquisitely prepared by master chefs, and there is no better place to enjoy them than PDX!

After we landed in Portland and had a great lunch at Pok Pok Noi with Maya and her son Joe who picked us up at the airport, my fiancé and I headed to Park Kitchen for our double date with our friend Tiffany and her boyfriend Jesse for our non-stop food fest. After Paley’s Place, this is probably my second favorite restaurant in Portland. The food here is always so amazing, and I love that I get to try new unique dishes every time, depending on the month of the year I visit!

We opened a few bottles of perfectly-matched wine (thanks to Jesse’s expert wine guidance) and ordered the Small Cold Plates and Large Plates samplers to share, where we got to experience a handful of seasonal specialties. This is truly a perfect option for anyone who simply cannot choose from so many amazing items on the menu!

To start, we enjoyed (clockwise starting from the upper left) a plate of grilled bread with raw quail egg, cheese blocks, and frisee salad; Indian-inspired salad with papadum and curry-flavored chick peas on the bed of green; grilled corn and green bean salad (if I remember correctly, the black thing at the bottom was some sort of fungus … sounds strange but it was delicious); and razor clam with roasted pepper and what tasted like sliced fennel or celery root tossed in vinaigrette dressing.

Next, we ate watermelon and beet salad on the bed of sweet yogurt-like cream with peanut brittles on top; yellowtail sashimi tossed with grilled zucchini, tomatoes, and wonderfully bitter green; and baby octopus with grilled shishito peppers and simple tomato sauce.

For the Hot Plates, we got the following: Homemade beet Pappardelle, carrots, and Brussels sprout cooked in beet butter, and topped with creme fraiche; grilled sturgeon with wine reduction sauce; pork belly with spatzel (German pasta) and squash puree; rib-eye steak with wasahi flower sauce with grilled shishito peppers and roasted tomato with breadcrumbs.

For dessert, we devoured the decadent chocolate cake with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, and a slice of cheesecake with peeled grapes.

Our reservation was at 5:00 p.m. (a total early-bird special) because I wanted to go to bed early to ready myself for the half marathon the next morning but we ended up spending three and a half hours at the restaurant! With more glasses of wine than I anticipated (but loved every drop), I knew that I was going to pay for it at the race … but I didn’t care because this dining experience was SO worth it!

Park Kitchen
422 NW 8th, Portland, OR
★★★★★

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
★★★☆☆