Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Quick Hits: Bar Avignon, Verde Cocina

When Nancy Hunt and Randy Goodman opened Bar Avignon in June of '08, I was thrilled. Taglined "Just a Bar," they'd planned to have a place where neighbors could drop in, have a pint or glass, maybe a quick nosh, then go about their day. Pretty soon it was evident that people were interested in far more than just bar snacks, and with the hiring of chef Jeremy Eckel the menu amped up not just a notch but into a whole new dimension.

With the recent departure of Eckel and the hiring of former Sonoma-based chef Eric Joppie, the upward trajectory continues, if my visit over the holidays is any indication. From their standout sardine salad (left), with crisp, sweet apple wedges, celery leaves, pickled onions and a perfect six-minute egg, to the bronto-sized lamb shank braised to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, everything was not only perfectly prepared but showed a fresh take on flavor and textural combinations. As an example, the sounds-so-wrong but tastes-so-right crazy lusciousness of the…get this…crême brulée bread pudding (top) was knee-bucklingly delicious with its custard-infused, soufflé-like body sided with the ideal foil of tangerine confit. Still priced for the I-don't-feel-like-cooking weeknight dinner where two can comfortably have a glass of wine each and share an entrée, it also makes a casually intimate special-occasion spot for do-it-yourself multi-course dining.

Details: Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division St. 503-517-0808.

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Not just places to pick up fresh produce, Portland's farmers' markets (60 and counting) have proven to be crackerjack incubators for new businesses. Relatively inexpensive vendor fees combined with built-in coaching and support have made them springboards for success for all kinds of start-ups from Ruby Jewel ice cream to Jacobs Creamery cheeses to Blossom Vinegars. Chef Noe Garnica and his wife, Anna, started Verde Cocina, making healthy Mexican-inspired food at the OHSU and Beaverton farmers' markets, and got such a huge response from customers that they expanded to the Portland and Lake Oswego markets. To no one's surprise they've now opened a café in the Hillsdale neighborhood in the former Caffe Autogrill space next to brand new Sasquatch Brewing that will also serve as a prep space for their growing catering business.

I had breakfast there the other day and was awestruck by the warm, woodsy room upstairs and the Buenos Dias breakfast consisting of two eggs scrambled with vegetables, then smothered in roasted peppers, some lightly pickled onions, beans and Ranchero salsa, and then topped again with big chunks of locally grown and smoked bacon. It was more than enough for two, but I manned up and chowed down the whole thing. Great for breakfast and lunch, I can't wait to get back to dinner where they pull out the molés, quesadillas and other specialties from Garnica's native Guanajuato, Mexico.

Details: Verde Cocina, 6446 SW Capitol Hwy. 503-384-2327.

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