Castagna

Dinner – Friday, May 16, 2015

What’s the easiest way to carbo-load for a race? Simple – stuff yourself silly with a tasting menu. We were in Portland for the Rock ‘n’ Roll run, and made sure to take full advantage of our stay. The vaunted Castagna, helmed by Justin Woodward, was our first stop. Oh, those deceitful menus – we were caught off guard by┬áthe 20-course onslaught from the kitchen, but held it together and prevailed. Here is what we ate.

Beet chip, beef tartare, horseradish
Hidden ingredients were a theme throughout the dinner. Here, the chilled, creamy beef tartare was held underneath each chip. Salty and spicy – a strong first bite.

Oregon “shrimp salad”
Kohlrabi, jalapeno, lemon, sansho powder

Excellent – one of our favourite bites of the night. Creamy, delicate shrimp were contrasted by the crispy kohlrabi, with the sansho adding a wonderful kick.

Buttermilk puff
Salmon roe, egg salad, olive oil

The feathery light puffs were hollow and filled with the roe and egg salad mixture. Again, creaminess and saltiness applied in correct proportions.

Onion terrarium
Sweet onion custard, green onion puree, peas, green almond, charcoal oil

Red pepper leather, shisho, sheep’s cheese

Satsuma, Piment d’Espelette oil

Shigoku oyster
Pernod gelee, oyster emulsion, chorizo oil

Warm King salmon, carrot, satsuma juice
Amazing
. A slice of perfect salmon, paired with a slightly sweet, slightly acidic juice that multiplied the flavour of the fish many-fold. Restrained cooking at its finest.

Geoduck marinated in coconut water, house-smoked lardo
Great interplay of textures here. The unexpected synergy between the smoky pork fat and coconut water was delightful.

Spot prawn
Meyer lemon and prawn gelee

A bite that wouldn’t be at all out of place at Saison. Intense. Pure.

Dungeness crab
Cucumber, fish sauce, nasturtium, buttermilk-dill sauce

Foie gras
Apple, smoked hazelnut nougatine, coconut cream

Unlike with the geoduck dish, I found the coconut element a little strange here. However, the apple (compressed with parsley juice) and hazelnut were excellent with the foie torchon (which was faultlessly prepared – bravo).

Seared cobia
Lacto-fermented garlic, grilled ramps, potato puree, halibut fumet

I want heads of this garlic – it was terrific! The rich fumet also had pronounced sour notes that lightened it up and highlighted the meatiness of the cobia. Very solid.

Morel mushroom, toasted sorrel
Mushroom foam, barley malt, pork jus

A plump morel was shaded by the giant sorrel leaf – an umami bomb under brush.

Dry-aged duck, liver jus
Porcini, boudin blanc, mushroom duxelle, roasted asparagus

The 2-week aged duck was brushed with honey, rendering an almost Peking-style crispness to its skin. The meat was remarkably gamey – we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lamb loin
Hazelnut pesto, jalapeno, anise-flavoured herbs

Rhubarb ice
Whipped cream, stewed rhubarb, buckwheat granola

Goat’s milk ice cream, cheesecake
Frozen lime meringue, graham cracker crumble

Potato skin ice cream
Buttermilk granita, aged sherry meringue

I would argue that there is an overreliance on frozen elements in the desserts here. This one, however, was inspired – visually, and on the palate. The pat of ice cream was very creamy and definitely redolent of a tuber. The granita and meringue were truly perfect counterparts – acid and oxidation brought out the best in the potato.

Fernet and milk chocolate, coffee and dark chocolate
Apple leather with white chocolate and apple sorbet

I can’t remember who it was that said, when describing some restaurant, that it was “…like Japan meets New Nordic.” It may very well have been Castagna – the description is so apt. Here, the influences are transformed by the terroir of the region and the mind of Justin Woodward. I did not get the chance to eat here when Matt Lightner put it on the map, but the restaurant is clearly in very capable hands. Castagna, to me, seems to be a must-visit in Portland – our best meal of the trip.

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