1401 SE Morrison St 503-234-2427 nostrana.com
There are restaurants by which to judge other restaurants, and there are those by which to judge friends. Such is Nostrana. With fare so humble, so religiously seasonal, so artfully executed, so authentically regional (in the sublimely specific northern Italian sense), it’s not too harsh to say that if a friend doesn’t comprehend the magic of this restaurant, he or she may not be worthy of your time—at least during the dinner hour.
Close contenders: Bar Mingo, Navarre, Ned Ludd
Authenticity is no accident. Chef Cathy Whims has studied with Madeleine Kamman and Marcella Hazan, two of the most renowned living teachers of the culinary arts, and she has traveled to Italy many times to master regional techniques. She was the executive chef and co-owner of what was arguably Portland’s most influential restaurant, Genoa. But in contrast to Genoa’s spendy, multicourse menu, Nostrana’s only entrée that tops $20 is the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a massive grilled Porterhouse steak that easily feeds three. Given that Whims was a 2009 James Beard Award finalist in the Best Chef: Northwest category, there’s not another restaurant in Portland that delivers such value.
Whims rarely leaves you wondering what ingredients comprise a dish. Flavors scream, exemplifying both mastery and a humble restraint. A seared flat-iron steak, its internal flesh the color of a pomegranate, rests atop a bed of fresh arugula garnished with soft slivers of poached garlic and rosemary-infused olive oil. Seasonal pasta dishes, like the summer lasagna, are fresh and unfettered: sheets of soft spinach pasta alternate with sliced sweet heirloom tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, and small explosions of flavor in the form of prosciutto pieces scattered throughout. —MT