Because so many fruits and vegetables we eat are grown and consumed fresh, there are so many things we have to retire due to the changing of the seasons. Tomatoes go from juicy, meaty fruit to pink, fleshy disappointments. Peaches harden and lose their flavor. Berries can’t achieve the peak sweetness provided by a hot summer sun.
You know what is available year-round, thanks to the marvels of modern science? Ice. Throughout the summer, diners can walk into myriad Portland restaurants for towering shave ice or kakigori, boozy slushies, and sweet or savory granitas.
The granita — a Sicilian iced treat made with sugar, water, and liquids like juice or syrup or coffee — has expanded beyond the mound of ice following a meal at an Italian restaurant. Most commonly, savory granitas are found as toppings for raw oysters: Southeast Portland seafood restaurant Normandie tops its Pacific Northwestern oysters with rotating granitas, in flavors like horseradish and melon-habanero, while Quaintrelle on Southeast Clinton uses granitas featuring sour plum, yuzu, and sake. But that’s just the granita entry point: In the summer, you’ll spot iced condiments on sashimis and crudos, in chilled soups, in salads. Newly opened Haitian spot Kann piles a pink-hued watermelon ice over its coal-kissed butterfish. And Italian deli Sebastiano’s lets folks take the granita with them, selling tubes of citrusy snow in the style of an Otter Pop.
Now that every summer in Portland involves some sort of ridiculous triple-digit heat wave, those icy dishes are a welcome respite, a way to cool off over dinner without chugging gazpacho out of the pitcher like a character in an Almodovar flick. But once Portland settles back into its six-month (if not nine-month) season of gray, rainy skies, the granitas seem to disappear, melting away as noodle soups, braises, and stews grow in popularity. Japanese pop-up Soen has already alluded to the waning of kakigori season, and I’ve definitely seen chefs begin to swap their granitas for mignonette at the raw bar.
But I’ll be honest: My desire to be refreshed isn’t temporal. I’ll order a boozy slushie in January. I’ll eat kakigori in the snow, or ice cream in the rain. I don’t care if it’s unfashionable — I want ice in my water, dammit. And yes, I’m going to want to eat a granita in any context year-round.
The good news: Some Portland chefs have assured me that they have no desire to lose their granitas. Interurban’s oysters will always have some sort of granita with them, be it watermelon-black currant or negroni. The same is true of Normandie’s oysters, though the melon-habanero has stepped aside to make room for a bloody mary granita.
So Portland chefs, hear my plea: Continue to top your raw seafood, your oysters, your gazpachos with little piles of flavorful ice. At the very least, keep a granita on the dessert menu; citrus is best in the winter, after all. We already have to sacrifice so many of our summer spoils during Portland’s rainy season — why would we reject our simplest one?