Some Portland food producers are so good at what they do, they achieve the same kind of cult following usually reserved for the city's top chefs. Manuel and Leslie Recio, proprietors of Viridian Farms, are among that elite group. You know those padron peppers on every menu every summer? They were the ones who brought them to Portland. And red cardoons, piment d'espelette, and a host of other Mediterranean delights the duo sought out during their travels and cultivated here at home. Portland Monthly called them "a bellwether of local food culture," which is why so many people were dismayed by the news a couple months ago that they were giving up farming.
But the good news is, they're not really getting out of the business, they're just changing platforms. Instead of growing the ingredients that will change the flavor of Portland's food scene, they'll be importing them. As we reported in December, the Recios are opening Conserva, a specialty food market focusing on products from Spain and France. Now we have details on where, when and why. They've signed a lease for a space at 1720 NW Lovejoy and plan to open in early March.
Not only that, they'll be operating a hot food kiosk at the Portland Farmers Market this spring, where they will serve up seasonal tapas using produce from the market and specialty items from their shop. Think pintxos made with Yukon gold potatoes from Winters Farm, Galician octopus they imported for Conserva, and Viridian Farms piment basquaise honey.
As for Conserva itself, "It's a small shop where we are combining our knowledge of Spain, southwest France and the Basque country with some exceptional foods made by talented producers," says Leslie. "We already have a wonderful lineup of foods that are new to Portland."
Expect things like caviar, hand-packed seafood, vegetable preserves, Spanish spices, and French confections, and even some produce from Viridian ("We will be teaching our neighbor how to grow our specialty varieties," says Leslie). There will also be a small selection of wines and ciders that the Recios hand-picked to complement their specialty foods. And just to make sure you actually use these uncommon ingredients, they'll offer tips on preparation and serving, "both traditional from the respective regions, as well as modern applications we have learned from Michelin-starred chefs in Spain," says Leslie.
The Recios were inspired to open Conserva after two recent trips to Spain and New York. While at an October food conference in San Sebastian, "we had an opportunity to learn and focus on new applications of fantastic ingredients that went beyond use of fresh produce," says Leslie. The following month they took a trip to New York, where their vision crystallized after seeing small gourmet shops dedicated to single categories.
"Portland is a special place with an exciting culture that appreciates good food," she says. "And while we do have great farmers markets, supermarkets and large specialty markets, we don't have a small specialty shop that is devoted to the specific foods we want to share with everyone ... that's how our Conserva shop concept was conceived."
Conserva (opening in early March): 1720 NW Lovejoy St. #107, Portland