Last week as an early Christmas gift to ourselves, Ian and I went out for dinner at Ava Gene's in SE Portland. I've had my eye on this place for a couple months but hadn't had the opportunity to try it yet, but my patience was finally rewarded. Their dining room is immaculately designed; it's warm, inviting, the seating feels casual, and the kitchen is open. It's dim enough to be romantic but not so dark that you can't see what other patrons are eating. It felt good to sit here and eat.
The first thing we ordered came from the Fritti or fried section of their menu. This is Gnocco Fritto (fried bread) with prosciutto and quince mostarda. Mostarda is an Italian condiment made from candied fruit and mustard syrup. This was salty, sweet, tangy, and sharp. For me this was a new dish with a different flavor than I was expecting, and it was so good.
We weren't done with fried things yet. We ordered arancini with pumpkin and fontina cheese. Arancini are breaded and fried risotto balls and are always one of my favorite things to eat. I could have just gotten 5 orders of these ......... but there was more to eat.
After a couple of plates of fried things, I felt it appropriate to order something from the Giardini or garden section of their menu. I got a salad with celery, brussels sprouts, radishes, walnuts, and pomegranate. It was so colorful and refreshingly acidic after a couple of heavier starters.
Next we decided to order some Pane or bread. There were several tasty looking breads on their menu, but we decided to go with the winter mushroom and bottarga. Bottarga is dried roe from the Mullet fish, it is salty and savory. The combination of mushrooms and bottarga created a flavor that was both earthy and meaty - delicious.
Next, it was time to get serious. Pasta serious. Ian ordered this Sagna Riccia with pork and lamb ragu. The flavors of this ragu were incredible and the texture of the pasta was perfect.
I am always so happy when there is pasta with fresh clams on a menu, it's the first thing I look for - after the wine list. I ordered the linguine with clams, finocchiona salami, and breadcrumbs. Just amazing. Spicy, sweet, salty, texturally satisfying ....... I just want to eat it every day. I loved it. I didn't like it, I LOVED it!
At this point we were so full, but it wouldn't be right to leave without at least sharing a dessert. We got their tiramisu. Sweet cream, bitter coffee, moist cake - all good things.
The next time you want to treat yourself to a nice dinner at a cool PDX restaurant you should do yourself a favor and head to Ava Gene's. Amazing.