Does it help to read restaurant reviews of places you might never go to? When I am researching a new place to travel to, it certainly does. Portland, Oregon is a true foodies heaven – the produce is remarkable and the range of food exciting. So for me, a fantastic place to visit. Castagna is a must visit restaurant. Located some two miles outside the city centre proper, the restaurant is fairly unprepossessing outside, inside it is modern, dark and, well, monochrome. Staff are black clad, knowledgeable and just a tad too keen to clear the dishes away. Chef Matthew Lightner
has been named one of the USA’s Best New Chefs 2010 by Food & Wine Magazine.
The tasting menu is $55, a snip. Some customers seemed unsure about the concept of a tasting menu and were unsure whether they could eat four courses – perhaps thinking it would include 4 substantial servings. There were 5 choices for each course.
The cooking is innovative and different and difficult to categorise: It showcases amazing local ingredients and quite a few that were new to me.
So we could try as much as possible, Mr EF kindly had a different dish to me for each course. The titles of the dishes are were provided on the menu complete with the terse title from the menu.
So feast your eyes …
First Course: Pickled early strawberries, bison tenderloin, herbs and malt.
Mr EF was very pleased with this combination, the green strawberries having a subtle taste, the malt really accentuating the flavours.
First course: Dungeness crab, amaranth (a type of grain), lemon and cardamon
The star of all the dishes perhaps. Foams are so over-rated, but the lemon and cardamom beautifully complimented the buttery crab topped with amaranth which added a little texture.
2nd Course: Early sour plums in vinegar, salted plum, pig tail and sprouts (tiny vegetables rather than brussels).
For a crackling lover such as myself this was heavenly: crisp skin, melt in the mouth pork accompanied by diced sour plums. We were instructed to eat the larger sour plum as a mouth cleanser at the end: it really worked!
Course 2: Pickled (meat) marrow, porcini, spring garlic, pine nut, coffee and cocoa.
Definitely the most astonishing dish – apparently they have stones of all shapes. This is a BIG stone. Mr EF reported the porcini and marrow mixture a perfect balance and the coffee and cocoa enhancing the overll flavour.
Course 3: BBQ lamb collar, glazed morels, ferns, nettles and watercress
The lamb was unctuous, slow cooked then coated in a BBQ sauce glaze, the greenery added a light touch.
Course 3: Fresh Oregon skate, fresh garbanzos, salcornia (samphire) and seaweed infusion.
The only dish out of the ones we tasted that didn’t have the wow factor. The garbanzos were covered in a very salty powder.
Course 4: Oats, rhubarb jam, vanilla, olive oil bar and violet.
Mr EF was licking his lips.
Course 4, Dish 2: Bavarian malt, sorbet, sable, curdled cream and lemon balm.
The curdled (frozen) cream covers candied beetroot (deliciously chewy) with subtle sorbet, enhances with a little malt.
Which dishes would you have gone for?