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[PDX] Nostrana...

extramsg | Oct 22, 2005 02:09 AM

Its first Friday and my first visit. Good for me that traffic was so bad I decided to eat out before going home. Saw several others that post here trying it out as well.

Very much like the room. Amazing that they finished it so quickly given how it looked just a month ago. There's a little tile Etruscan-looking floor at the entry and a wood pile right around the corner. Super high ceilings. Wood oven front and center at the counter. A very cool painting that I can't even begin to describe up and to the left of the kitchen. Just go see it.

Menu is broken into apertivo, antipasti, zuppe, pizze, insalate, "from the stove", "from the rotisserie", "from the grill", fromaggi, and dolci. Most expensive item on the menu was $16, but most are a few bucks cheaper.

We tried five items: salad of wood baked Corona beans and olive oil poached albacore tuna with house giardiniera ($7); Nostrana salad, a Caesar of radicchio with reggiano and rosemary-sage croutons ($6); margherita pizza with fior di latte ($9, $13 with mozzarella di bufala); pork and beans and greens, grilled fennel and bay encrusted pork steaks with wood oven cranberry beans and sauteed greens ($12.95); wood oven baked peark and black mission fig crisp with almond cream ($5.50).

The salad was nice with a good variety of pickled vegetables. They were pretty vinegary and could have used a little more complexity in their flavor, but they were still interesting. The beans and tuna had a nice richness and flavor, though with the sharpness of the giardiniera, I think more richness would have been nice. Either that or less tanginess. Good portion.

The radicchio was very bitter, especially the white ends, and not adequately balanced by other flavors. The smaller pieces that were heavily coated with dressing were good, but those were too few. I think larger shavings of cheese and a more heavily dressed salad would have taken of the edge. Tasty little croutons.

The pizza came out with nicely blistered edges and an ultra-thin crisp crust. They're lightly topped and you shouldn't expect to get a taste of each topping, including cheese, in every bite. But the flavors are excellent. The sauce was bright and tomatoey. They're using quality ingredients. Great fragrances. My wife, who ate most of the pizza, enjoyed the olive oil it was topped with.

The pork steak was a relatively rich cut with rivers of fat between pockets of meat. It was seared very nicely, kept juicy and about medium to medium rare (different thicknesses in spots). I think it needed to be salted more, though, before grilling. Very enjoyable beans as well, a deep and earthy flavor. A touch of balsamic or a little citrus would have been a nice bright counter or accent just to lift them, but tasty nonetheless. Sauteed greens were spicy, which could be considered a counter for the beans, but they needed a bit of salt.

They forgot the dessert at first, but ended up comping it once they realized. We thought it was taking a while, but just that they were busy. It came cooked to order in it's own little dish and a side of almond-flavored cream. My wife loved the pears but not the figs, at least some of which were purposefully (I asked) unripe. They added a vegetal quality, almost, and kept it from being too sweet, which I liked. The cream was a wonderful addition, also balancing the sweet flavors.

We sat overlooking the kitchen, right in front of the wood oven and next to Cathy forming pizza crusts. It was interesting to watch the kitchen. There didn't seem to be any one lead person and I don't think I once saw Cathy go over and check out the other stations. Everyone seemed to have their duties and they did them without too much interaction. Even at its busiest it came across as a very laidback kitchen.

Lots of interesting choices on the menu and good flavors, especially for a first week. There's room for improvement, but at the prices, even without improvement, it's worth it.

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