Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front-of-the-house professionals in Portland restaurants. Right now: Portland Monthly's Allison Jones on Michael Garofola of Genoa.
The best front-of-house professionals can be everything to everybody, and nowhere is that more true than at an established white-tablecloth institution like Genoa. Sommelier and manager Michael Garofola has this uncanny ability to be both genially accessible to, say, a young couple heading out to Genoa for the first time, and suavely ultra-professional for the grande dames of eastside dining. With his custom-tailored suits and razor-sharp wit, not to mention his ridiculously encyclopedic wine knowledge that is always imparted with a funny or sweet personal story, he's able to make every meal at the storied SE Belmont space feel like a special occasion without being stuffy.
Michael has single-handedly converted wine novices I know into people who now crave the most obscure varietals, and he's such a great conduit for Genoa's particular mash-up of old school and modern cuisine. In my experience, when tasting menus have been truly memorable — especially those using modernist techniques — it has been because servers were able to offer the translation of the chef's passion and intent to the table with clarity and comfort. Michael — and to be fair, the rest of Genoa's staff — can do this without missing a beat.
Recently, Michael lent his palate and opinionated side to my tasting panel for Portland Monthly's Best Oregon Wines issue (out in October), and I got to see this other, casual side of him. He had us all cracking up — often to the point of tears — every day of our blind tasting, turning what could have been a slog through 600 bottles into what felt like a couple of friends hanging out with some wine (admittedly with more tasting notes). It takes a truly smart, savvy individual to have that much hilarity in him at all times and still be able to be reserved and refined when the situation calls. He's simply a professional in the best sense of the word.
— Allison Jones, contributing food editor at Portland Monthly
· All Previous Genoa Coverage [Eater PDX]