There was something about the energy Tuesday night. The light was soft, the air was electric and a room full of jovial strangers became your instant best friends. If you walked through Accanto’s side door that evening, you would have been greeted by a flute of prossecco and Chef David Anderson offering you a nibble of arugula crostini and a plate of some of the finest charcuterie on this side of the Mississippi.
And this is only the first 10 minutes.
Welcome to Portland Food Adventures. Masterminded by former New Yorker, lover of all things Portland, Chris Angelus, PFA is an excuse to sit around a table, make new friends, and explore some of the best (and, in my humble opinion, Michelin worthy) kitchens Portland has to offer. A set price, an amazing meal, and a stack of gift certificates to restaurants in Portland chosen by your host and the chef. If that’s not a deal, I don’t know what is.
Chris sent me an email about a week ago inviting me and my camera to his next food adventure at Genoa, and I, of course, graciously and eagerly said yes.
Genoa is a Portland legend. Opened in the year of my birth, 1971, it was a gathering place of folks in search of organic (the first Oregon restaurant to offer organic), local and rustic Italian foods in a fine dining environment. According to Tim Parsons, event coördinator extraordinaire and our wonderful host, the windows were wallpapered so your entire experience was within the walls of the restaurant. Late at night, after the last of the dinner guest had gone home, the wait staff, who apparently all hailed from Reed College, would sit at the tables filling ashtrays with spent cigarettes and wax on about life and philosophy.
In 2008 Genoa closed their doors only to be opened again exactly a year later by Chef Anderson who chose to embrace and cultivate Genoa’s tradition of offering the finest, local and organic ingredients, while exploring his own food genius.
Tuesday night was not to be missed. After we were all sufficiently relaxed and our appetites whetted, we traveled down the corridor that connects Accanto and Genoa to the darkly wooded, cozy, yet formal private dining room. Accanto is Genoa’s free spirited younger sister, flowing skirts and flip-flops. She’s the perfect complement to Genoa’s stylish and refined sophistication. Migrating between the two worlds that night enhanced the enchanting experience of the two restaurants. I was captivated.
As we all sat down, we were greeted by Katherine and Joshua our servers for the evening. I wish there were a better word than server. Kind, gracious, attentive they helped make the evening of serving eighteen people flow seamlessly. The bottom of my wine glass never saw the light of day. Our Prix Fixe menu before us, the only decision we had to make was which entrée and which dessert. And, no, it wasn’t an easy one.
The room was alive with conversation as they set our first of our five courses (see the full menu, with vegetarian offerings here) in front of us: Crudo di Mare. Marinated bay scallops and octopus with avocado mousse, citrus confit, cured salmon and chickpea crackers. The scallops, goodness, were like butter delicately melting on your tongue.
The next course was Fettucine con polpettine di vitello. Yes, veal meatballs. Need I say more?
You would think that the room would have gotten quieter as our courses came out and our noses were in our plates. Instead, it was like, what I imagine, a Sunday family dinner in Italy might be like: Everyone getting more and more excited by the food. Passing plates, sharing bites, clinking glasses and talking about food in anticipation of what comes next.
And what came next did not disappoint. Our entrée or Secondi choices were pan-fried Chinook salmon, prosciutto wrapped confit leg of a young chicken, or Lamb t-bone with crispy marrow. I just couldn’t resist the crispy bone marrow and chose the lamb.
Bone on, smothered in mint salsa verde, succulent and buttery. I’m not even sure how to describe the bone marrow. A crispy puff with a delicate soft and fatty center. All of this paired with an Eiting Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir made exclusively for Genoa. Perhaps I was star struck by the evening, but it was by far the best pinot I’ve ever had. Perfectly balanced with just the right amount of body, fruit, and delicate acidity.
Then there was dessert. Oh my. How does one decide between deconstructed strawberry shortcake, mascarpone cheesecake, and chocolate nut pyramid with pistachio anglaise? Fortunately with such a generous crowd I suspected I’d get to taste all three. I ordered the chocolate pyramid, and everyone around me ordered the cheesecake. Ha! But I did find a strawberry shortcake at the other end of the table to steal a few shots of.
The evening ended with thank yous, exchanging of business cards and the sharing of hugs. After everyone left, Tim led me and Chris down to the cellar where along side stacks of wine bottles and a couple of funky lamps, are binders upon binders of 40 years of Genoa menus and wine list. How cool is that?
That, my friends, was one hell of a night.