27 August 2006

Lunch w/ Dad @ Nostrana

My love of pizza has remained undiminished since childhood, although my palate for it has grown from the neighborhood Pizza Hut to the traditional form from Italy with a special place in my heart for good New York pie.

Nostrana popped on my radar when my dad mentioned a "new Italian restaurant in Portland"—we both like Italian food, although he's more a pasta man. A quick Internet search revealed its specialty, pizza, and the kudos all around—The Oregonian named it 2006 Restaurant of the Year. I was intrigued, and my dad was interested, too. So, we made date for a belated Father’s Day lunch

We warmed up with a plate of assorted Fra Mani salami. The cured meats with their pepper seasonings perked up my appetite. I also had a bowl of zucchini soup that I could have passed on—and did, literally, to my dad. It lacked any flavor to distinguished it from other vegetable soups, and wasn't served warm enough for my liking.

The house made fettuccine with basil pesto, green beans, and potato came out next. It was a simple dish, but done very well. The flavors were distinct and clear—fruity olive oil, fresh basil, mild garlic—and the pasta a perfect al-dente.

Once the pasta was finsihed, we waited several minutes for the star of our meal to arrive. There was a mistake with our pizza and the kitchen needed a redo according to the waiter. But, it was still impressive when it made its appearance at the table—Funghi pizze, shitake mushrooms with house made bacon and fontina Val d'Aosta and Parmigino cheeses. The toppings were piled on, battling each other for real estate on the pizza, and the dough was well charred and smoky. Some may prefer a thinner, crisper crust, but I enjoyed the chew and give in the bread. The mushrooms brought an earthy quality to the pizza that was deepened by the briny, thick-cut bacon; and it was all connected with wonderfully melted cheese, warm and gooey. I was cutting pieces with my knife and fork, but soon dispense with my manners and picked up the slice with my fingers and ate with my bare teeth. Good pizza, like any good food, deserves the respect from you to dig in and eat it with relish.

Then it was on to desert. The peach gelato with saba was a disappointment. It was so icy that I wonder if it was misprinted and meant to be sorbetto. But even that label wouldn't have passed muster; its texture was too coarse to be pleasant in any form, regardless of cream content. On the other hand, the yogurt panna cotta with blackberry sauce was pure pleasure. My mouth swooned enjoying its silky, smooth texture. It was love at first bite and rapture by the last.

A couple days later, my dad asked me what I really thought of the place. I told him I liked the pizza and might go back again just for that, but it won’t be added to my regular Portland-area dining destinations. But half of eating is whom you eat with. The time spent with my dad is what I'll remember about my meal at Nostrana just as much as the food.


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