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Karen Brooks On Zefiro; Current, Trenchant, Lost

Back in 1991, long before Portland became the extreme food town that it is today, long before Micah Camden and Naomi Pomeroy opened up the restaurant that would become the cultural touchstone that Beast is now, long before Bruce Carey became a quadruple-threat--Saucebox, 23Hoyt, Bluehour, Clarklewis--mogul, and long before the Oregonian would make a blunder-headed move and let dining editor Karen Brooks go, said dining editor wrote a review of Bruce Carey and current Gruner chef Chris Israel's then-collaboration, Zefiro. And, as part of what is becoming Karen Brooks Appreciation Era, let's take a spin through the past, and see what's still current.

Visiting Hollywood celebs and local movers and shakers traverse the weathered concrete floor and take their place at snappy black booths. A few steps down, the low-lit copper bar fills with the cleanest bohemians of our day. Radicals and rich eat side by side.
True then, true now.
And Zefiro, more than any Portland restaurant, represents the shifting cultural scene. Everything about its mood and menu signifies a turning point in local culinary aesthetics.

Cool ambiance and all, Zefiro is a real restaurant, serious about the wine and food it purveys. The basic premise is simplicity, with inspiration drawn from the hills of Tuscany and the Italian Piedmont, and the markets of Morocco and Greece, with occasional forays into the France countryside and the Pacific Rim. Beyond this, menus are influenced by what's fresh at the local market.

Salient then, relevant now.
The kitchen doesn't strive for the complicated or the trendy. This is not a temple to goat cheese and edible flowers.
Haha OMG remember when goat cheese was trendy and new!?!
Carey, 31, is the front man, the schmoozing maitre d', the eagle-eyed floor manager. Mostly, he's Mr. Image-Maker, the smooth dresser who picks the music, adjusts the lights and coddles the customers.
Accurate then, accurate now.

And then there's a namecheck for Monique Siu, the third owner of Zefiro and right this moment the owner of Castagna, i.e. the person who's supporting Beard nominee Matt Lightner's inventive, scientific, and silent cooking.

Why talk about a twenty-year-old review, today? Because what Brooks did in this review is what the Oregonian has lost by throwing her overboard: a sense of institutional memory, a knowledge of the past, but most of all the realization that restaurant reviewing is about so much more than talking about how crusty the bread is or how bright the sauce. It's about capturing a moment that a restaurant--cultural touchstone of our times--expresses, and inviting the reader in. It's about expressing, tangibly, the ineffable qualities of walking into a space and having dinner. And it's about giving Bruce Carey enough attention that he decided not to move to Italy to open a burrito stand. Link, broken.
·Restaurant of the Year 1991: Zefiro [Oregonian]
·All Karen Brooks Coverage [EaterPDX]


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