Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

Two days, two lunches, weather so fabulous you can dine outside in shirtsleeves in early May...does it get better than this? The crowd roars, "NO!"

Picked up a pal and ventured down the street (again) to Mississippi and Bryan Steelman's ¿Por Que No? Taqueria to check out their sidewalk dining scene. The bench along the bright pink stucco wall is now covered by a lovely arbor and lined with tiny lanterns, making it the perfect outdoor dining scene that will remind you of an evening on the malecon in Vallarta.

We started with their Hibicus Flower Tea, a pint of deep ruby liquid with a hint of lime, and some of their guacamole and salsa with house-made chips, crisp wedges of fried tortilla that are thick and light without being leathery. Then came two tacos, a calamari (left in photo) and their amazing carnitas. The calamari, which I'd never had before, is super fresh with a sprinkling of pico de gallo, queso fresca and their smooth, deeply flavored house chile sauce. The day, the sun, the company and a terrific lunch. Suffice it to say I feel like the luckiest of persons!

Then today I picked up the Mama from her bachelorette pad and we drove over to Nostrana for a little pre-Mother's Day celebration. Once again, I was bowled over by the room (maybe half full rather than the crowds it draws at dinner), the service (Mark had my mother's heart fluttering with all the attention) and, of course, their incredible food. If this isn't one of the best places in town to have lunch, then I'll just have to turn in my badge.

We started with an asparagus and sweet pea salad with shaved Parmigiano. Now, on a normal day this would be a great starter salad, but they not only peeled but shaved the barely cooked asparagus into slender slices, picked only the tenderest curls and leaves of the pea shoots and topped it all with a barely poached egg. Yikes!

Then we moved on to the Nostrana salad, their take on a classic Caesar, made with radicchio and with a light, creamy touch on the dressing. Plus a pesto pizza straight from the wood-fired oven that was blazing away behind the bar. Mark had poured us each a glass of the Canalicchio Rosso di Montalcino, though he seemed a little puzzled that we weren't having white wine with our food choices. What can I say? Rosso rocks!

We were going to leave after our coffee, but we saw a panna cotta float by on its way to another table, so since Mom had never had one and it's so hard to explain what makes it so incredibly wonderful, I ordered one for her. "It's small," I said. "Hardly any calories." It came, a little round of creamy perfection, with a drizzling of rhubarb sauce that had us in orbit. Plus Mark's explanation that the texture, according to the Italians, "should be like a mature breast, not a young one." Did I tell you he's great with the ladies or what?

Details: ¿Por Que No? Tacqueria, 3524 N. Mississippi. Phone 503-467-4149. Nostrana, 1401 SE Morrison; Phone 503-234-2427.

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