Friday, March 26, 2010

Toast for Dinner

Distance is a funny thing. Portlanders talk about how close they are to some of the best ski slopes in the country (45 minutes), great fishing holes (as little as half an hour) and miles of open beaches (90 minutes). There's also windsurfing (less than an hour), hiking (google "columbia gorge hiking") and biking (can you say "Mt. Tabor"?).

Ambrosial beet salad.

And they'll travel a fair distance for good food, too. The Country Cat in Montavilla draws folks from all over Portland, as does Syun Izakaya in Hillsboro. But there's an area south of Foster Road and below 82nd Avenue that's akin to the Bermuda Triangle in people's minds. Suggest dinner at Toast on 52nd and Steele and they'll act like you just said, "Let's drive to Indianapolis for a bite."

But I'm telling you, if you can get them in the car and work it so you don't slow down too much at signals, get there one evening soon. I convinced a fortunately open-minded friend to meet me there last week and had a mind-blowingly great, and very moderately priced, meal. Greeted by a tiny amuse-bouche of baby radish rounds and sprigs of miniature arugula, it set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Seared gnocchi with raab.

Owner Donald Kotler sources most of his ingredients from local suppliers like Zenger Farm, Sauvie Island Organics and Cattail Creek, among many others, and supplements with produce from his own garden. Which means that, along with those introductory babies, you're likely to find other tender young things like various incarnations of raab, greens and beets. The night we were there Donald was getting excited about featuring purslane and salsify that are being grown for the restaurant. (Look for those on most menus in town.)

Our meal started with a shared bowl of green pea and mint soup, finished with a dollop of creme fraiche, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chives. It arrived, a startling green in a white china bowl and with a bisque-like smoothness. A perfect blend of two ingredients, neither pea nor mint predominated and much mmmmm-ing and ooooooo-ing was heard.

Pork medallions with greens and polenta.

After debating the social cost of licking the bowl, eventually (and reluctantly) deciding it might not be prudent even if it would have been worth getting that last tiny taste, we were saved from ostracism by the arrival of a beet salad in what could only be called an ambrosial honey-mustard dressing mixed with slices of tart apple, more tiny greens and crushed toasted walnuts. And if you were a careful observer, toward the end you may have seen a finger slide through the smear of dressing remaining. But we tried really hard to be nonchalant about it.

Corn cake with cream and syrup.

Mains were similarly awesome, my gnocchi seared and served with sautéed wild mushrooms (winter chanterelles and hedgehogs, if I'm not mistaken) and tiny raab. And unlike many kitchens that seem to think that searing disguises the heaviness of their gnocchi, these retained that light texture that marks a knowing hand. And my friend's pork medallions, gently pink in the center and meltingly delicious, were served over fried polenta with sautéed chard and golden raisins, a magical combo I'll be trying here at home.

For dessert we went with a simple Italian corn cake, its humble cookie-like shape sitting in a puddle of sweet cream and a citrus syrup reduction, looking like a skirted young lady sitting on a white pillow. With a cup of freshly made decaffeinated coffee, it was the perfect grace note to a fantastic evening. And yes, there may have been a finger or two sliding across the plate to get the last of that amazing syrup. Surreptitiously, of course.

Details: Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. 503-774-1020.


EcoGrrl said...

all sounds great! it is true about traveling within the city...i live in the dekum triangle and with everything my neighborhood has evolved to, there really is not a need to travel all that far...going over to esparza's in SE last night for dinner was like a field trip!

ps - for the car-free set, 52nd & steele IS quite a journey from where i am...

Kathleen Bauer said...

Tri-met says you can take the 75 to 39th & Steele then the 10 to 52nd. Not a quick trip, but it does the trick!

Anonymous said...

I have a 26 mile commute to work. I know no fear when it comes to distance. Bring on the Toast!

(but seriously, what is UP with all the open space between stuff here? Never thought I'd long for the crushed-together-ness of Boston, but jiminy crickets!)

Do you think Portland will rig up a commuter rail anytime soon? Preferably high-speed? And powered by coffee grounds and rain? (a girl can dream...)

Kathleen Bauer said...

Keep dreamin', RD, keep dreamin'!