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Russell's 'B+' for the Fun-Loving Racion; the Alt-Weeklies Get Harsh

Photo of Racion courtesy Avila/EPDX

The Oregonian's Michael Russell gets schooled at the West End modernist Spanish restaurant Ración, where "advanced students of molecular gastronomy might find Ración to be an entry-level course, but newcomers will be entranced." Russell bestows a "B+" grade upon chef Anthony Cafiero's "part-lab" restaurant, praising the kitchen's emphasis on flavor despite the tricksy foams and powders associated with molecular cooking: "My fear before eating at Ración was that I would be impressed by the technique but bored by the flavors. If anything, the opposite was true."

Cafiero's food menu rotates depending on the week, but "each of the plates on the a la carte menu... has a fun, intriguing element" (white-soy "chicharrones" with salbitxada are deemed "addictive"; duck leg arrives with "perfect" beet rounds and shave foie gras). Russell throws in a Portlandia reference — "Cafiero & Co. have yet to find an ingredient they can't sous vide" — but that's mostly a positive, with sous vide mushrooms considered a "wonder." Cocktails are considered especially fun, particularly a "deconstructed, DIY mint julep." Ultimately: "The food could have used a few more 'wow' moments to match those cocktails. But Cafiero and his team are obviously having fun, cooking what and how they want to cook, and that's infectious." [OregonLive]

Meanwhile, right next door to Ración, WWeek finds much less to love about Rick Gencarelli's quick-serve pasta spot Grassa (the dek cuts to the chase: "Wait in line, get some oily pasta." In a 180 from the Merc's recent review praising its efficiency, WW's Matthew Korfhage writes that "Grassa is a truly impressive machine, the digestive tract of an earthworm that spits you out on the other side in under 45 minutes, a little confused." The businesslike approach results in stumbles: spaghetti algio oili is deemed a "bland, oily, dorm-ready bowl of noodles"; tonnarelli with fried sand dabs considered "tedious" thanks to an "unfortunate one-note parsley gremolata"; and a veggie side dish evokes "hot-plate fare at a supermarket deli."

There are a few high notes (an "excellent" carbonata and the gigli noodles), but Grassa is ultimately deemed "the apogee of unfortunate trends" in the local restaurant scene: "Portland crowds are passive and reliable and eager to be pleased — willing to stand in lines for hours for often iffy food (Luc Lac, Salt & Straw)." The headline — "Grassa-Fed Cattle" — brings things full-circle. [WW]

The Mercury's Chris Onstad is similarly unimpressed with NE's cleverly named Church, and the headline here also goes right for the jugular: it's "a congregation in need of a savior." The food looks to be a mixed bag, with many snacks (fried okra chips, fried green tomatoes) lacking in flavor or simply deemed "serviceable," like corn hushpuppies and a shrimp po'boy that functioned more like a "Westernized banh mi." Highlights include the "rich and full-bodied" deviled eggs, a surprisingly flavorful vegan gumbo, and smoked mac and cheese, "the only starter I'd call delicious."

The biggest problems seem to lie in the "unique" cocktail program, and Onstad writes that the "standard drink profile is thick bodied, under chilled, overly strong, and medicinal" — "I just don't get it." Ultimately: "Church is a vibrant meeting place, but the food and drink require salvation." [Mercury]
· All Previous Week in Reviews Coverage [Eater PDX]


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