Image of Castagna courtesy Avila/EPDX
In this month's review, Portland Monthly's Karen Brooks has a bold assertion to make about Castagna head chef Justin Woodward: "He's the only Portland chef creating Michelin-level food." Like Brooks's Castagna reviews of yore, the critic dishes a poetic ode to the SE Hawthorne restaurant that's admittedly "perennially half-empty," though through no fault of Woodward's precise, choreographed dishes. Among them: asparagus that's a "vegetable fantasy in double vision," a beet and smoked beef powder that's a "culinary illusion... as good a dish as you'll find anywhere, New York to Spain," and a cured cod "like sashimi in 3-D."
Less-successful dishes are those that "dig a little too deep into the chemistry set," but Brooks concedes that any risk-taking would yield in mixed results. Ultimately, Woodward is compared to everything from an "artist in bloom" to a "budding modernist poet" to "Uma Thurman training in Kill Bill." His restaurant, as a result, shows off its "modernist dress, Japanese brains, and Oregon bones." [PoMo]
The O's Michael Russell visits SE Morrison's casual Thai spot Tarad, and his mixed experiences result in a "B-" grade. Most noodle dishes on the limited are deemed "only a step above pedestrian," but what's good is great: Russell declares that the restaurant's pad Thai is Portland's best. "Like al dente pasta, the rice noodles in good pad Thai retain some bite... the result is chronically addictive." Also tops: the khao soi (which "rivals the best in town") and the dining room itself, which "feels a little like an open-air restaurant, even though it isn't." Design-wise, comparisons abound to Pok Pok.
Ultimately, "At its best, Tarad charges ahead, another strong player in Portland's already winning Thai scene." [OregonLive]
Meanwhile, WWeek hits up another noodle joint — Andy Ricker's Sen Yai, the newest installment in his growing Pok Pok empire. There, in a space hilariously described as "a diner inside an auto repair shop," Sen Yai's "breakfast menu is its biggest revelation," offering sangkhaya (coconut custard) that reviewer Martin Cizmar would "gladly buy a bucket of" (for dipping purposes, of course). Of the afternoon and evening noodle dishes, phat si ew and ba mii tom yam muu haeng are deemed tops, though the instant ramen considered a dud. [WW]
· All Previous Weeks in Review [Eater PDX]