Photography by John Valls
PFA blog by Chris Angelus
For 30 previous Portland Food Adventures dinners, we’ve stayed within a fairly consistent theme. Chef interacts with guests, and gives them the best experience at their restaurant they can have many courses of food, drinks, wine, and a talk celebrating the community spirit of Portland revealing some of their favorite places to go. The guests leave with gift certificates to go on the chef’s adventure. But what I never realized when I conceived of this idea of putting forth great “experiences” three years ago was what was going to happen when you got a bunch of like-minded people in a room meeting and conversing about all things, including their Portland food-loving lives. The energy at PFAs is simply fantastic. While our PFA at Grassa strayed from the usual format just a bit, it was the energy in the room that helped define it as a PFA event.
Chef Rick Gencarelli is, of all chefs in Portland, the one I’m closest to. I knew him before he made his mark in a big way in this fantastic food city, and I’ve now seen him open up four businesses: The original Lardo food cart, his first restaurant on Hawthorne, the second Lardo downtown, which make some of the best sandwiches on the planet, and the crowds flocking to make them so popular indicate that. And now the third brick and mortar iteration of his Italian, farm-to-table cuisine. This time, pasta.
And so unlike the arrangements that are made with most chefs, this particular PFA at Grassa was simply based on Rick’s idea of having guests make some pasta, and eat and drink a lot. No agreement… no contract. When I checked with him the day before the event for particulars, he would only assure me that it was going to be great and that it would all be under control. I know him well enough that I could trust him on that. I also knew he had a fantastic staff of ChefStable people to help make it so.
We were in the midst of another string of warm weather days in Portland (it’s a myth that it sucks here for as long as people says it does, in my opinion–we have had amazing weather, save for about five days, for the last month), when I walked into the new Grassa space in advance of our PFA. The sun was shining brightly through the giant glass windows in the beautiful clean space and some hard core Sizzle Pie metal was blaring on the speakers. Nick, who has experienced openings from Whiskey Soda Lounge, to Oven and Shaker and Lardo West, to name a few, from ChefStable who helped design and open Grassa, ran me through the itinerary for the evening, which was to include welcome cocktails, an appetizer of Fritto Misto with the perfect roasted Calabrian chiles, and a great salad of Olympic Provisions meats, white beans, oregano and red wine vinaigrette to start.
Then, after mingling, people would group together to make pasta while enjoying bottomless Negronis, and then three courses of delicious family style pasta with decanters of white and red wine.
I introduced Rick, told a bit of the story of how we got to be friends, and Rick took center stage. He also introduced Ian Hutchings, who will be the executive chef at Grassa, who had just moved up from Corvallis after stints at two restaurants, the most recent of which was Luc, which he owned and operated.
Eager adventurers donned aprons and Ian and Rick proceeded to show off their state-of-the art pasta makers and extruders, until of course, the extruder hit a snag and Ian had to scramble to unclog it… but watching that snag was part of the experience–new restaurant, new chef, new equipment, but still…. as any experienced chef can do, they save the day without looking ruffled and we went on to have an energy and delicious carb-filled evening.
My favorite of the courses was the Squid Ink Chitarra with charred octopus and chorizo butter with preserved lemon. The perfectly textured octopus playing off of that Olympic Provisions heaven… I took two nice helpings of this dish.
The garlic bread, even when toastier than I thought was to my liking, featured buttery pleasure in every garlic laden bite, and I found myself reaching for more.
Although the Radiatore with tomato braised chicken, skin, ricotta and basil is something I would definitely order again.
Many people cited the Sweet Pea Agnolotti with burro fusso, shaved asparagus, lemon and tarragon as their favorite. The pasta was so perfectly textured, with those spring flavors–I can see why.
Because the heart of Portland Food Adventures is the adventure, Rick shared some of his favorite Portland spots, while we finished off with tiramisu. He started with what we at PFA know to be a fantastic restaurant, after our event there not even a month ago, Levant. Scott Snyder also happened to provide the recipe for the current Lardo Chefwich, a lamb meatball special. HA&VL, out on 82nd, and Rick’s Favorite sushi place Sushi Mazi on Division.
Everyone got to leave with a bag of fresh pasta, and one of two sauces, bolognese or marinara. Most of the couples took one of each.
I have to admit, there were people who arrived to Grassa coming in like a lion–probably after dealing with work, sitters and traffic, who looked in almost dire need of a drink. Every single one of those wonderful people left like lambs, with happy faces, completely satisfied by the great food and company–and new friends–they made on this beautiful June Portland evening. What jazzes me most is when people ask me for the email addresses of friends they made, and even more so, they come back together and request that they sit together. I had quite a few of those types of comments and requests on this evening.
Good luck and best wishes to Rick, Kurt and crew. You will get your framed commemorative first dollar again soon! But where were the charred spring onions?
Next up, the rest of our international adventure trio:
Kelly Myers’ Xico and her utterly fantastic Mexican Food Adventure, July 11th. Adventure destinations will be Tamale Boy, Mi Mero Mole, Woodsman Market for Rancho Gordo Beans, and Three Sisters Nixtamal… Kelly is not kidding around when it comes to adventures.