Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cafe Castagna

1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Happy Hour: 5 - 6 PM & 9 - close, Tuesday through Friday

Portland does happy hour better than any city I know. Food carts, too. But we aren't just about discounts and street food. Portland's food scene is forever expanding and the talent in this city is growing at a rate that seems almost out of control. Recently, I had the opportunity to experience some of that talent at a special event hosted by Watershed Communications and Cafe Castagna.


Although we spend the majority of our blogging efforts in search of the best discounted drinks and the cheapest eats during happy hour, it's nice to get out for a fancy meal now and then. At Cafe Castagna, you can do just that--at a fixed price. I've always loved the concept of a prix fixe meal--assuming, of course, that they include a vegetarian option in every category. (Which reminds me...Portland Dining Month is just a week away. I'd better start planning.) But at Cafe Castagna, they've made things even easier. As long as you trust the chef. And having tasted some of the creations coming from Chef Wesley Johnson's kitchen, I know he's one to be trusted. For as little as $30 per person, Chef Wesley will fill your table with his favorites. Leaving it up to him means that you are getting the best pairings, the freshest ingredients, and--in many instances--the newest items to hit the menu.


We started the evening with appetizers. Available on the menu in the cafe is a plate of fried panissa--similar in both appearance and texture to polenta fries but made with a chickpea puree--for $8. These are perfect for sharing and quickly became one of the most frequently passed plates of the evening.



Also ideal for sharing and an excellent starter option is the Flatbread. Served with three small dishes of chicken liver mousse, harissa & labneh, and Turkish hummus, this dish gives everyone at the table a chance to savor some of the broad flavors that Chef Wesley has introduced to the menu at Cafe Castagna.





Charred Beets, Oven Roasted Carrots, and the most fragrant citrus salad made with grapefruit, Meyer lemons, ginger, basil, and thinly sliced charred garlic are all available on the current menu as share plates. The roasted root vegetables were not listed on the menu but paired perfectly with some of the meat dishes and made this vegetarian happier than happy. Allowing the chef to make your selections for dinner could easily equate to enjoying items NOT on the menu.


Although the majority of the plates served from here on out were meat dishes, Chef Wesley did state in his introduction that the fixed-price chef's dinner can cater specifically to vegetarians (Thank you, Chef Wesley!). One dish that he's sure to include--and that's listed on the current dinner menu--is the Celery Root and Parmesan Agnolotti, served with black trumpet mushrooms. This was, by far, my favorite dish of the evening (and I'm not just saying that because it was the only vegetarian entree available).

By the end of the evening, there were so many plates on our table that it made passing dishes from one end to the other a bit of a puzzle as there just wasn't room to set anything down. The majority of the dishes were meat entrees that I just can't comment on. Luckily, it was a blogger dinner (two back-to-back nights, in fact, of Portland's bloggers eating, talking, eating, drinking, eating, and taking pictures from every angle possible) and you can read all about it at Bakery Bingo, Serious Crust, Pechluck's Food Adventures, and Salt.Water.Coffee.



We ended the evening with the most adorable profiterole--with pate a choux puff pastry split in two and filled with a Halvah (sesame seed) ice cream. Topped with honey, chopped walnuts, and a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper flakes, this made for a light finish to a very filling meal.

Despite the many changes to the menu at Cafe Castagna, they still offer one of the very best burgers in town. And it's still available at a discount during Happy Hour (Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6 and again from 9 to close).

To make reservations for the prix fixe meal at Cafe Castagna or one of the many other restaurants participating in Portland Dining Month (March 1 - 31, 2015), visit OpenTable.

-b

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