Saturday, March 03, 2012

Quick Hits: Mextiza, Smallwares, Luce

Recent noontime visits to this trio of newcomers revealed much promise, with a side of newbie-itis.

With big bro Autentica holding court on the hot corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth with the likes of Yakuza, DOC, Beast and Cocotte, a little sister down the street might feel a teeny bit overshadowed. Indeed, Mextiza, Oswaldo Bibiano's new outlet a few blocks west of Interstate, is understated, but has a certain sophisticated style all its own.

Autentica specializes in the cuisine of Bibiano's home state of Guerrero in Mexico. But with a menu spanning the whole country and a wall o' tequila and mescal that rivals any the big boys boast, this little girl might just be poised to have her moment in the spotlight very soon.

On a recent lunch visit the housemade guacamole was laced with lime and the queso-and-salt sprinkled chips (left) were crisp and light. But what captured my eye were the enchiladas with roasted poblanos in a sauce of—be still my heart—huitlacoche cream sauce and sprigs of epazote (top photo). One whiff took me back to the Plazuela Machado in Mazatlan, the last time I'd had that particular combination, and this version stood up to my memories of it. The dinner menu covers much broader territory, and I've heard reports that it and the cocktails are worth seeking out. I definitely will!

Details: Mextiza, 2103 N Killingsworth. 503-289-3709.

* * *

Northeast 46th and Fremont has seen a couple food businesses come and go. The latest entrant to attempt to anchor this key corner in the Beaumont neighborhood, Smallwares, has a bit of a pedigree in owner and former Nostrana sous-chef Johanna Ware. An alumna of David Chang's much vaunted Momofuku restaurants in New York City, she's revisiting those roots with what's billed as an "inauthentic Asian" spot.

My lunch there, shortly after it opened, revealed a menu with tastes collected from many Asian cultures with, as you might expect, a twist thrown in. For instance, the kimchi featured the expected cabbage and daikon, but then also included apple, which worked quite nicely. The mapo dofu (above) was a small cup of pork richly combined with a fermented black bean sauce, but it was served sitting on a cushion of savory egg custard. Mussels (left)—see, I told you I can't resist 'em—were the most traditional, in a nice broth of sake and chile flake, and had little slivers of doughy rice cake mixed in.

The only complaint was that the same chile sauce seemed to make an appearance in several plates, though this sameness of saucing may change as the kitchen adjusts the menu.

Details: Smallwares, 4605 NE Fremont. 971-229-0995.

* * *

No sign, shelves full of Italian food products and a few tables scattered across the floor. On a side wall, a listing of delicious-sounding plates. Such is the caché of John Taboada, originator of the Spanish-inspired Navarre on NE 28th, that he can open a minimalist spot like Luce and pack in eager foodies looking to be the first among their peers to tweet about it.

On a mid-week stop for lunch, a friend and I had our choice of tables (the hipsters must still have been in bed) and we sat down to sample a few plates. The price is the only giveaway of the size of the plates…for instance, for $2 each we ordered stuffed clams, a beet dumplings and a slice of squash tart (above). Six bucks, right? What came out was a salad plate that featured three teensy little clams containing maybe a half teaspoon each of "stuffing," two 1-inch beet fritters and a maybe-1-inch-wide sliver of tart. The chicken in wine sauce was a little more generous, with a decent-sized leg divided into thigh and drumstick in a capered wine sauce. I'd like to go back in the evening and have a glass of wine and a couple of plates, but it's definitely not the kind of place to go and expect heaping plates of food or cheap prices.

Details: Luce, 2140 E Burnside St. 503-236-7195.

No comments: