Oregon is home to a lot of restaurants and bars, but there are tons of hidden gems that the majority of Portlanders aren't unearthing. To help guide us to these potential discoveries, we've enlisted some of our city's many food players to share their recommendations for a weekly feature dubbed Dining Confidential.
An entrepreneur and businessman, Michael Madigan is the man behind a mini-empire in Old Town. A New York City native, Madigan moved to Portland, Oregon in 1987. With a love of food and wine and a passion for knowledge, Madigan opened Portland's KitchenCru, a shared-use community kitchen and culinary incubator, in March 2011. Driven by the desire for a solid, New York-style bagel, he eventually decided that enough was enough and opened Bowery Bagels in 2012; the wine-focused Remedy Wine Bar debuted in the nearby Park Blocks last June.
"I grew up in an Italian-American family in NYC, so I am particularly finicky when it comes to Italian food," Madigan says. Madigan and his wife, Lynn, live just south of Portland in West Linn, but for their Italian fix, they head to Trattoria Gallo Nero in the Pearl.
I was very happy when chef/owner Davide Filippini transformed his espresso bar into a full blown trattoria specializing in food from his native Florence, and even happier that it is only two short blocks from KitchenCru and Bowery Bagels. We eat there several times a month.
The food is very refined and fresh. Portion sizes are exactly right (no heaping plates of pasta), and prices are modest. Most of the pastas are made in house, and are always cooked perfectly al dente. My current favorite is a hand rolled pici, served with pancetta and pecorino cheese. It is also hard to pass up on the stuffed pastas. Traditional Florentine ravioli filled with potato and aromatics can be ordered with a choice of sauces. Tortellini in brodo are the size of your thumbnail, served in a rich chicken stock, and ideal on a rainy Portland afternoon. So is the ribollita, a hearty Tuscan vegetable and bread stew.
Chef Davide also has a sure hand with fish. I have enjoyed swordfish, skate wing, and halibut cheeks, all cooked and seasoned with skill. The fresh vegetable accompaniments keep the dishes light and fresh, as do his simple but intense sauces, mostly based on olive oil, citrus, and herbs, in the Florentine fashion. All this combined with a well-chosen wine list featuring mostly Italian selections, a full slate of delicious antipasti and salads, and solid espresso service, keeps me coming back to Gallo Nero for my quick Italian fix.
Photo of Trattoria Gallo Nero courtesy Elizabeth via Foursquare