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Castagna & Cafe Castagna


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#1 Jill-O

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 10:15 AM

I am here to sing the praises of Cafe Castagna, an often overlooked choice for some very good food that is very well priced. (They have a nice drinks list too, btw, and a great list of infused vodkas.)

I've been to Cafe Castagna for dinner about 3-4 times, but I've been there twice this week alone - once with VJ on Monday and once with Calabrese on Wed. (because I told her they had chocolate pot de creme on the menu and she decided we had to go there because she had been looking for such a thing...).

On Monday, VJ and I decided to completely share our meal of: caesar salad ($10), flat iron steak/fries ($20), cockles w/preserved lemon, garlic and parsley over linguini ($12?), almond cake with strawberries and whipped cream ($6), and lemon sorbet ($6). I had a great housemade ginger soda ($3), and VJ had something called a Lime Vicky, I think??

While I still think that the caesar is a bit better at Ken's down the next block, the caesar at CC was still pretty good. The steak was darn good, done very rare as ordered and very flavorful and tender and the fries crispy and thin (very close to as good as Basta's $20 steak) . The cockles were marvelously briny, plentiful and very tasty with the properly done linguini and there was a nice bit of broth/brine at the bottom to soak up with bread. The desserts were plain but very good - the cake moist, rich and almondy with great berries and not too sweet, not too whipped cream and the sorbet was tart and refreshing with a good texture. A great meal, really.

On Wed. Calabrese and I shared the arrancini (deep fried rice balls - 2 stuffed with cheese, 2 stuffed with sausage and herbs - $6), I had the lemon chicken with oregano, chard gratin, and asparagus ($16), she had the meat balls (lamb, orange zest, mint, on white beans - $14?), and we shared the chocolate pot de creme ($6). We both had ginger soda (which went really well with the lemony chicken, I have to say!). (BTW, the cockles were not on the menu by Wed.)

The rice balls are a really tasty appetizer here and are always on the menu - crispy outside and creamy inside, they are never greasy. The chicken was marvelous. It was a half chicken and the skin was cripsy and lemony and oregano-y with juicy meat underneath. The asparagus was perfectly done and the chard gratin was a wedge slice of what seemed to be chard and potato with a light crisp crust. I didn't care for the lamb-y meatballs and I am not a bean lover, what can I say? Calabrese seemed to like it, though. The chocolate pot de creme was fabulous - thick and rich with that great semi-whipped, not-too-sweet cream on top - YUM!

My point here is that Cafe Castagna is solid. The food here is very well-prepared and the ingredients top notch and fresh. The prices are very reasonable for what you get: the ingredients and the amount on your plate. The service is very good, the atmosphere is calm and minimalist, and you can always find parking when you turn the corner off of Hawthorne...they even have some seasonal outside tables right now. You can order just about anything on the menu and be happy. If you have not been here, you should go.

Makes me want to try Castagna, the more expensive sister next door...
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#2 Leopoldo

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 11:29 AM

Café Castagna has for some while been high on my list of places to take/meet people. I am particularly fond of how well they treat their vegetables. I always get some spinach when I am there and have also been very happy with their asparagus and sautéed zucchini. Other people rave about their half chicken though it has never done very much for me. The place can be a bit loud for conversations but it is a very warm and welcoming environment and the service is top notch. The drinks are yummy though a bit light on the booze.
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#3 Calabrese

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 06:56 PM

I have been to real Castanga when it first opened and a few times after. I thought the quality and value went down hill as it became a name in the local scene. There are a number of other places that deliver better value and quality for the price. Now the Cafe is a little gem that I like a whole, whole lot.

For the original Castanga, I will say that the last time I was there about a year ago, my out of town guest liked it. However, she liked Oba! a lot more. Basically she liked almost every place we went. I think PDX has a better restaurant scene than the DC area where she hails from.

#4 ExtraMSG

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 11:00 PM

I don't know Calabrese. There are a lot of great things about DC's restaurant scene.

I'd give Castagna a try Jill. I think it's almost certainly in the top 10 for the city (what would a top ten be? Wildwood, Park Kitchen, Gotham Bldg Tavern, clarklewis, Hurley's, Paley's, Caprial's, Castagna, and a couple others perhaps?)

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#5 Calabrese

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 04:16 AM

Zuke: I'd love to go to Caprial's again (only been twice). Castagna might not make my top 10 in 2005.

#6 vj

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 08:52 AM

I've got to chime in with Leopoldo. The vegetables there are magnificent.

I love cafe castagna. Love it, love it, love it. I have yet to have a bad meal there in the couple years that I've been a semi-regular. Now, if they had beer on tap...

I'd be curious to try Caprials again. I had a miserable expensive meal there a couple years back. However, this is with a friend who seems to curse restaurants by having a birthday dinner there.

#7 Amanda

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 09:23 AM

What is the difference between Castanga and Cafe Castagna? I thought it was all the same thing. I've been past there a few times, but didn't really notice there were two different places. I'd like to go there as I've heard good things from all of you and other people at work, as well.

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#8 ExtraMSG

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 09:40 AM

Here's the website. Both menus are on it:

http://www.castagnar...t.com/index.php

I think Castagna is more consistent than Caprial's. But because of Caprial's location it's been about a year or so since I was last there. It's the execution at Caprial's that sometimes suffers, not the flavors or concepts. The room at Caprial's is much better than Castagna's, though, imo.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#9 Jill-O

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Posted 10 June 2005 - 09:50 AM

FYI - the menus change often...

The cafe menu always seems to have the arrancini, burger, mac/cheese, flat iron steak, and some version of the roast chicken...

Amanda, Castagna is more formal and expensive and only open for dinner Wed.-Sun. reservations required. Cafe Castagna is the storefront on the corner, less formal and expensive and is open 7 nights for dinner, no reservations required (get there before 6pm and there's not usually a problem).
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#10 Kristi

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Posted 17 September 2006 - 09:04 AM

My husband and I had dinner at Cafe Castagna last night. It was our first visit but it definitely won't be our last, we had a wonderful meal.

We arrived at about 6:45 pm and there were only a few empty tables. I started with the Miss Scarlett, a hibiscus vodka lemon drop. The hibiscus flavor really came through and it was an excellent drink that was well-balanced and definitely not too sweet. Mr. Kristi had a gin and tonic that he described as gin with a touch of tonic, it was one strong drink. For our appetizer we had the arancini, fried risotto balls with fontina. They came out quickly and were nice and crunchy on the oustide and creamy on the inside. We both loved this dish.

We ordered a bottle of valpolicella for $30 to go with dinner. They have a nice wine list that is very affordable, although I wasn't farmiliar with a number of the wines. For entrees I had the burger with bacon and blue cheese and fries. The fries were crispy and wonderful and the burger was juicy and flavorful. This burger ties the Wildwood burger for my favorite. Mr. Kristi had the flat iron steak with arugla, red-wine shallot vinaigrette and frnech fries. The steak was done perfectly. Just a note, the steak is now $21 but it is still an excellent value at that price (we'll be trying the steak at Bastas to see how it compares once we get our gift certificate). For dessert we shared the almond cake with huckleberries and whipped cream. It was a dense cake with a wonderful almond flavor and it was the perfect end to our meal.

The service was excellent, while they didn't hover they were always there right when you needed them. The man next to us dropped his knife and a server was there to take it away and replace it before he even picked it up off the floor. I don't know why it has taken us so long to eat there, but we will be back soon!

#11 pdxnewbie

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Posted 17 September 2006 - 09:28 AM

It all sounds just perfect Kristi! I like the sound of that drink, the Miss Scarlett ;)
Funny how simple arancini is and how hard it is to find them done well , we will have to visit Cafe Castagna soon! Thanks~

#12 ExtraMSG

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Posted 17 September 2006 - 09:55 AM

MERGING

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#13 Twitch

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 09:31 PM

Hit Castagna tonight with my sidekick. Her: mac and cheese. Me: roast chicken.

The space:

Was cold and uncomfortable. The decor on the SE and W walls does not match the street facade. Very poorly done. Tear down the old Portland front and ditch the nasty curtains.

The service:

Was good to a fault. Our server was superb, but the hostess busied herself playing backup to the server's water-filling duties. With two employees filling water glasses, I was consistently interrupted and frustrated. I was filled whenever my glass dropped 1/4th its volume. I'd rather be filled when it had 1/4th left, or at least less frequently.

The drinks:
I did not see a standard martini on the list, only vodkas, although I wasn't looking hard. I was immensely disappointed in the lack of draught beer, and the bottled list was horribly thought out. Sweet and malty over represented, with some shit on there that did not belong there. Iron City and Eku? Good God.

Let's look at the count:

Two IPAs that are too close for comfort (TG and Lag)
Three pilseners
Three maltier lagers
Two ambers and a steam (hey, they're close)
One Porter
One stout porter
Two browns.

I know there aren't many beer people on the board, so I'll attempt the following analogy: If this was a color palette, we'd have two tangerines, three light blues, three dark blues, three purples, three navies, two lavenders...you get the idea.

They did have Medoc on the wine list, which more PDX restaurants should have in winter given our use of seasonal vegetables. I was familiar with that vintner, though, and didn't like it - so I didn't order it.

The food!

The roast chicken was quite good. I was issued a front quarter and hind quarter. Skin was crispy on both, and the front quarter was full of juice and cooked to perfection. The hind quarter managed to have less useful meat and be dryer, despite a higher fat and gristle content.

The seasoning under the skin - a variation on walnut butter with some aromatics - was excellent. I wish I could butter my toast with it every morning. Its distribution, however, sucked. They tucked a quarter sized dallop under the skin of each chicken piece without spreading it around. Concentrated flavor in one bite of chicken is OK, but I'd rather have it over the rest of the meat as well.

The side were turnips, brussels, and sunchokes. All were awesome - they do treat their vegetables well. I'd be happy with a big plate of these for ten dollars. The sunchokes were a bit young - it's mid season, IIRC, and I liked them that way. Skin was left on the turnips, the way it should be. A meagre amount of foie gras topped these...less than one cubic cm, but I appreciated the gesture.

Bread was OK, but not astounding. Mildly sweet baguette of unknown provenance. Butter was generic quality checked - I'd have expected a little more.

My pard had the mac. I was disappointed by this - gruyere, cheddar, and parmesan were the contents, and they canceled each other out. It was just kind of cream and salt, without accentuating the characteristics of the cheeses. Mild salt, zero fruitiness.

Like Higgins, they err on the side of large portions, which I suppose is fine. It's still one of those situations where I'd rather contribute a dollar more to the tip and a dollar less to the kitchen.

#14 Calabrese

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 01:01 PM

Since this is the Cafe Castagna thread can someone please break off the Caprial's discussion?

#15 ExtraMSG

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 01:37 PM

You mean, Calabrese, like a moderator? :D

I moved the Caprial's stuff.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#16 Calabrese

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 03:59 PM

Hmm.... I haven't figured that activity out yet. I'm really good with making SPAM invisible though. :D

#17 Jill-O

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 06:04 PM

Yeah, aren't we all? It's like whack-a-mole, I tell ya!
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#18 Laksa

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 07:18 PM

Another nice thing about Cafe Castegna is...open on Monday!

#19 jcoll4

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Posted 02 February 2007 - 04:40 PM

I have been there several times. always for the burger and fries. they have one of the best burgers in town. if not the best one. they often also have good oysters. I like their burger better than simpaticas brunch burger because I can get it any day of the week.
All I did is say I eggs in a vegan dish..

#20 Jill-O

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Posted 02 February 2007 - 06:42 PM

Welcome to the site jcoll4! I agree about their burger. Just about my favorite in town.
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