Saturday, August 19, 2017

Special Restos: Portland, Oregon: Castagna; Nostrana; Higgins Restaurant and Bar, Pok Pok, Ox.


First, let me say that Sommelier Brent Braun's broad and detailed knowledge is at such a level as to certainly exemplify why Mr Braun was awarded Food and Wine's "Sommelier of the Year". The extraordinary culinary experience created by Chef Justin Woodward, that I enjoyed this evening, was absolutely enhanced by the wine pairings (something that I rarely order) selected by Mr Braun. 

And I must also give kudos to the very creative pastry chef Geovanna Salas, for the exceptionally satisfying finish that she brought to this wonderful evening.

The experience this evening was one of the most outstanding culinary experiences that I have enjoyed anywhere in the Northwest and among the very best experiences that I have enjoyed in North America. Castagna should be a pilgrimage for any food lover.


Beet chip with beef tartar paired with cucumber juice, Hendrick's gin and hyssop oil, a wonderful complimentary pairing of flavours.

Pressed and lightly pickled radish topped with a tarragon emulsion. The radish had a crunch and the pickled flavour married well with the tarragon. 

Chicken liver mousse on a nori shortbread cracker topped with ice plant leaf. It was remarkable how well the flavour of the nori worked with the chicken mousse.

Toasted summer beans, fresh sea bean with a citrus egg emulsion and and dried sea bean powder.

Grilled onion and sheep's milk custard topped with finger lime accompanied by marinated sun gold cherry tomatoes  and topped with frozen, broken nasturtium.


Sea cow oyster with cucumber juice, fennel oil and topped with purslane leaf.

Spot prawn Lightly poached (perfectly) and presented in radish juice with lemon verbena oil. 

Deep fried spot prawn head. Very flavourful but, this was the evening's only shortcoming. I have experienced shrimp head cooked by the Japanese masters and also in Italy, by the best there. This rendition was a bit too oily.

The bread "course", warm olive oil rye roll accompanied by brown butter topped with caramelized milk solids from the butter and smoked pork lardo whipped with toasted hazelnuts and fresh herbs. 

Crab and cucumber: Oregon dungeness crab with cucumber marinated in house made fish sauce and topped with sturgeon caviar. The sommelier suggested an Oregon riesling called Ovum, a reisling with to me, an unusual mineral back ground flavour, in all, a perfect complement for this dish.

Albacore: impeccably fresh Oregon albacore tuna, sprinkled with a bit of coarse sea salt, sandwiched between paper thin layers of marinated Kohlrabi, all in a tomato broth with wild ginger oil and topped with marigold leaves. Brilliant harmonious flavours.

Squid: squid served with seared and charred eggplant puree, toasted garden chives and topped with fresh fennel fronds. 

Trout, potato, lovage: lightly smoked (with cherry wood) Idaho trout, served with summer beans marinated in lovage oil, aerated potato cream, all dusted with black lime powder and then topped with fresh sorrel.  Another brilliant combination of flavours.

Chanterelles, spinach, concentration of halibut: mountain spinach (orach), halibut, brown butter fume of halibut juices, all sprinkled with crystalline salt. This was a good dish but did not have the magic of the others. 

This was a dish that the chef composed a la minute because I did not wish the foie gras serving. Fresh Brentwood corn porridge with anise hyssop oil (agustache), charred cippolini onion, fennel fronds and purslane. A remarkably flavourful dish.

Grilled eggplant: eggplant "tureen" consisting of thin slices of grilled eggplant and sheep's milk cheese, blistered marinated cherry tomato, fresh green basil, matsuba leaf and nasturtium.

Aged duck and little gem: # week dry aged duck with little gem lettuce drizzled in duck sauce glace with pickled basil  blossoms. This duck had incredible flavour, slightly gamey, firm and with very good texture.

Beef culotte and society garlic: the beef had very good texture and flavour and using the "beef boys score" I rated 7.5/9/8.5 (taste/texture/juiciness). It was cooked perfectly and was dressed with a yeast sauce combined with an oxtail reduction and served with pickled beef fat and sorrel.

The palette cleanser: a sake ice with blueberries, perfect! 

Strawbery, spruce and sanasho: spruce ice cream topped with a fresh strawberry dusted with sansho powder. 

Almond financiere and dried strawberry powder.

Dark fruit almond: almond bavarois cream, blackberries and  herbs from the garden.

Lemon grass tart and macha green tea. Sublime!

Caramelized potato skin: caramelized potato skin ice cream with toasted meringue, buttermilk ice and aged sherry vinegar. A very refreshing and satisfying combination of flavours. Very innovative.

Nocino dipped in liquid chocolate almond shortbread and frozen. 


Nostrana has a wood fired oven and wood fired grill.

Grilled octopus salad with lettuce, gaeta olives, sweet red pepper, shaved fennel and aioli.

Clam pizza with sweet red pepper, garlic, oregano and gremolata. I ordered without cheese. Terrific clam juice and gremolata flavour. Crust was ok but over the wall taste but good texture. Clams were perfectly cooked and juicy.

Hawaiian Blue prawn ravioli with prawn brodo and chive. The sauce was very flavourful.

Smokey rotisserie chicken cooked over the wood fire grill with salsa verde, fried new potatoes and sauteed yellow wax beans. The chicken had a nice, smokey flavour but was a overcooked so part of the breast meat was dry. The fried potatoes were boring.

Sauteed collard greens with chanterelles, guanciale and garlic. Unfortunately this dish was so heavily over-salted as to be unpalatable. It was returned.

 LOL!!! OK. I think you can see what has happened here!!! I was distracted by the aroma and forgot to take a photo. Peach, blackberry and blueberry cobbler served with almond cream. A very tasty dish.

Higgins Restaurant and Bar

Seasonal heirloom field tomatoes direct from the farm, with garlic infused olive oil, basil and balsamic vinegar.

Baked, stuffed Wall Walla sweet onion with almond romesco, oyster mushrooms and seeds.

"Kakavia" Greek fisherman's stew of clams. mussels, calamari, fish, prawns, tomatoes, potatoes and dill, accompanied by garlic toast and roasted pepper aioli. There was a night bight to the flavour of the soup. A wonderful dish with a very satisfying broth.

Summer berry cheesecake with graham crust, cassis macerated berries, lemon curd and an almond cookie.

Pok Pok

Pok Pok serves food found at the pubs, restaurants, homes and the streets of Southeast Asia, with the majority of the food coming from Thailand, and specifically from the North and Northeast of Thailand.  The flavours of each dish set this cuisine apart. Most of the dishes have quite a bit of heat, some more than others, but, the "base line" for heat starts at "medium" (for me).

Chef Andy Ricker has been voted by the James Beard Foundation as best chef in the northwest. He has about 10 restos, with representation in NY and Los Angeles. This location was his first resto.

In Thailand, only a spoon and fork are used: the spoon to eat with and the fork to push food onto the spoon. The resto encourages you to try this method as it is the easiest way to eat many of these dishes. Some things are traditionally eaten with the hands such as grilled meat, skewers and sticky rice.

The resto suggests that most dishes are best when accompanied by rice: Northern and Northeastern Thai dishes with sticky rice, Central and Southern Thai with jasmine rice.

Kai Yaang:  charcoal roasted, Mary’s pasture raised, chicken, stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro and accompanied by spicy sweet and sour sauce and tamarind (it was pretty spicy too) sauce. The chicken was juicy and the meat perfectly cooked. This was my favourite dish. 

Muu Paa Kham WaanBoar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens and a spicy chili/lime/garlic sauce. 

The chilled mustard greens for the above dish. I was also served sticky rice. The technique is to grab some sticky rice and place the portion onto the greens and then add the meat (see below).

This is how the meat, rice and greens are eaten by hand. Quite delicious, this was my second favourite dish. The meat was quite spicy on its own but the rice and greens seemed to mitigate some of the heat.

Yunnan-Style Stir-Fried Corn (available vegetarian): corn kernels stir-fried with smoked ham, fresh green chiles, king oyster mushrooms, green onions, ginger and soy.   

Yam Samun Phrai (available vegetarian) : Chiang Mai version of a Thai herbal salad with white turmeric, carrot, parsnip, betel leaf, basil, lime leaf, lemongrass, sawtooth, fried shallots, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds, dry shrimp, ground pork and Thai chiles in a mild coconut milk dressing. 

Khanom Jiin Sao Naam: thin rice vermicelli with pineapple, ginger, white turmeric, green mango, dry shrimp, Thai chilies and garlic, topped with a sweet and sour dressing and turmeric coconut cream and house made fish balls. A hot season favorite from Central Thailand.

Yam Makheua Yao: smoky charcoal grilled long eggplant salad with spicy dressing of Thai chiles, lime, fish sauce and palm sugar, topped with boiled egg, dry shrimp, pork, prawns, shallots and crispy garlic.  A classic central Thai salad. 

Sii Khrong Muu Yaang: Carlton Farms baby back ribs marinated in lao jiin, soy, honey, ginger and Thai spices. Slow roasted and served with 2 spicy dipping sauces. As the resto advises, Thai-style: toothsome and meaty, NOT falling apart! But, from my perspective, properly cooked ribs should NEVER have the meat "fall of off the bone". The meat should "peel off the bone" when bitten, as the meat did here. The ribs were accompanied by spicy sweet and sour sauce and a smokey, spicy sauce.


Ox is an Argentinian themed resto where most of the dishes are cooked over the wood fire (see below).

 Ameuse of the chef: smoked potato puree soup. Terrific!

Crusty bread accompanied by butter topped with fleur de sel and chimichurri sauce. 

Smoked beef tongue vinaigrette with horse radish, sweet bread croutons and ensalada rusa (a classic potato salad served throughout Latin America, made with potatoes, carrots, peas, apples, celery, onion, and mayonnaise). Wonderful execution.

Fried oxtail terrine, frozen pea salad, verjus and preserved meyer lemon aïoli.  Terrific dish!!

Spicy braised beef tripe & octopus, mint aïoli, fingerling chips. 

Fresh clam chowder, smoked marrow bone, green onion and jalapeño. Wonderful!

House morcilla (blood sausage). 

Radicchio & snow pea salad, charred onion dressing, ricotta salata, toasted sunflower seeds and bottarga. 

Maitake mushrooms with smoked sea salt and scallions. 

Grilled eggplant, tahini and feta purée, sumac, cherry tomato, fried lemon & herb salad. 

Beef skirt steak cooked perfectly rare; beef boys rating 8/8/8 (taste/texture/juiciness). 

Spring ragoût of fava beans, peas, escarole, basil, mint, toasted garlic-anchovy vinaigrette and aged goat cheese. 

Flanken-style beef short rib. A bit overcooked. 

Perfectly cooked rib steak. 

Chocolate olive oil cake with toasted coconut ice cream, pecan anglaise and fudge sauce.

Buckle: warm peach cobbler and raspberry gelato.

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