Saturday, October 31, 2009

Critical Thinking

I'd be a terrible restaurant critic. First off, I don't know enough about the finer points of food, like the difference between rouille and romesco, or what distinguishes a classic gumbo from jambalaya. And, as frequent readers know, my culinary vocabulary peters out after "yum" and "delicious."

Plus I have favorites. Like Ned Ludd, where I had yet another fantastic dinner the other night, which is close by and priced so it's an easy excuse on those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights. Or Bar Avignon, whose move from "just a bar" to bistro has made it the casual inner SE meeting spot Randy and Nancy intended all along.

Another neighborhood spot we'd always liked, Ciao Vito, had somehow fallen off our radar, and when we heard it was one of a handful of local restaurants supporting a benefit for Growing Gardens, it was an easy call.

We walked in to a packed restaurant and were seated at a table on the long banquette, immediately ordering their spectacular house calamari with fried capers and lemon aioli (order it on the happy hour menu and you'll be knocked out for a fraction of the regular price) and the beef and pork meatballs with tomato sauce and fried mozzarella, light and meaty but nothing to write home about.

Since ten percent of the tab was going to charity, we splurged and ordered a bottle of Piedmont red to go with our mains, and while we waited for it to arrive, we munched on the terrific caesar salad (above left) that reminded me of the garlic wonder I so fondly remember from Zefiro days.

Mr. B had ordered the pork ragu (above right), perfect for the chilly evening with a rich, meaty, tomato goodness and just-right cheesiness. My Manila clams in a garlic white wine sauce (top) were piled on angel hair pasta, which is not normally on my list of great pastas owing to its tendency to clump up in a tangled mass. In this case, however, the pasta stayed light and lithe, each strand coated in the lovely clammy sauce. The clams themselves were tender and moist, with plenty to last to the very last noodle.

Dave's porchetta (above left), a slice of fatty loin stuffed and rolled with herbed sausage, was a fantastic version of this roasted pig dish, and I had dreams of having it in a sandwich with tomato chutney or a garlic mustard with fresh greens. If you have to stuff yourself for a good cause, whether charity or otherwise, this is a great place to do it.

Details: Ciao Vito, 2203 NE Alberta St. Phone 503-282-5522.


EcoGrrl said...

YUM is the best compliment you can give a restaurant! Who cares what the snobs do in their foo foo reviews? Ciao Vito is one of my favorites - their polenta with pulled pork slays me every time :)

Kathleen Bauer said...

I was tempted to order that…maybe next time!

dds said...

Describing something as "clammy" is not normally a good thing, but for this review it certainly was!

Never Vito, Ned Ludd nor Bar Avignon. Apparently, it's time to get a job so I can feed my restaurant habit.

Kathleen Bauer said...

See what I mean about the critic thing? Too many minefields to negotiate!

And I don't know if going to restaurants is a reason to get a "real" job. Yeesh!