Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Toto, We're Not in Portland Anymore

There is something almost mystical about walking through the door of a restaurant and feeling like you've traveled to a foreign country. Something about the arrangement of the room, the smells, the other customers, the menus. It's like a mini-vacation, a trip outside our humdrum lives if only for a couple of hours.

Our half bottle of wine.

We were out running an errand the other evening and ended up on NE 28th Avenue. It being a Monday night, most of the restaurants were closed, but as we got close to Burnside we noticed a couple of people sitting out front at Navarre. Now, we hadn't been in this place for at least a year but had always liked the food, so we decided to stop and see what was up.

Tuna with pickled onions.

Along a wall by the door was a line of metal bowls, several filled with fresh lemons, the room about half full of families and couples sitting at simple wood tables or at a metal bar that wrapped around the open kitchen. Shelves on the walls held boxes of rice and bottles of vinegar and row upon row of home-canned fruits and vegetables, like we'd stumbled into a neighborhood cafe in Barcelona.

Tongue and porcini mushroom salad.

The half bottle of wine came in a quirky glass pitcher that we poured at our leisure, quickly followed by a very fresh, melt-in-your-mouth plate of tuna topped with lightly pickled onions. Alongside was the tongue and porcini mushroom salad special, little slices of braised tongue tossed with sauteed chunks of porcini and bitter greens dressed with vinaigrette. I love the moist tenderness of well-prepared tongue, and its sausage-y texture with the juicy porcinis and tangy greens was one of the best things we ordered, and something I'll be trying to replicate at home.

Halibut with aioli.

We also had a plate of their homemade caraway sausages and another special, the seared halibut with aioli. The sausages were excellent, and we ordered bread (everything on the menu is priced separately) that came in handy for sopping up the fatty juice. The halibut, like the tuna, was perfectly cooked and moist, though the aioli was a little eggy after being seared (it would have been better fresh).

The menu offers most plates in small and larger portions, and we found that ordering a variety of each size gave the three of us plenty to share. As in many tapas bars, you write down the order for the table on a piece of paper and hand it to the waitress, which is a little confusing, and the small checkboxes for small plates and slightly larger boxes for larger plates needs a better UI (ooo-eee, or "user interface").

Great for those "I don't feel like cooking" or "Let's go someplace different" nights, the prices are very reasonable and the preparations are terrific. And the vacation in Spain for the cost of dinner makes it well worth going back to.

Details: Navarre, 10 NE 28th St. Phone 503-232-3555.


Suzanne said...

Hey KAB,
Sooo excited to hear about the new destination. In my 'hood no less. I've finally landed at a new place, and hope you'll check it out around the third week in July.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Good to hear from you, Ms. S! Can't wait to hear more about the new place...any hints?

Anonymous said...

We love Navarre. Never been disappointed with a meal. The wines are lovely and we even made it in for breakfast one morning....deeelish.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Mmm...I'm not a big breakfast gal, but theirs might just hit the spot. I'll have to check it out!

Suzanne said...

I have yet to see it, but the bar will be full of a few of Portland's best bartenders (if I may say), and libations!It is 50 Plates on 13th and NW Flanders. Regional comfort food, made with the (of course) best our region has to offer. More info in the coming couple weeks, and I'll make sure you get an invite to one of the opening dinners.
Let's get some drinks at Bar Avignon sometime! (apologies to Navarre)

Kathleen Bauer said...

Good for you! Sounds like a nice addition to the neighborhood. Keep us posted!