Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Very Vindalho

That's Vindalho, pronounced vin-duh-loo', for those who may, like me, have been wondering about the odd spelling. But that's one of the vagaries of Americanized spelling of foreign words in foreign alphabets (Devanagari, in this case). This relatively new entry on David Machado's resumé, starting with Pazzo and Southpark, then the wonderful Lauro Kitchen, is a welcome addition to Portland's Indian restaurant scene, which has been dominated by the same tired curries and rice dishes, not to mention the horrifying lunch buffets of over-cooked foods steeping in gooey sauces or congealing under heat lamps for hours on end.

But any bad memories were immediately blown away when we entered this large open dining room and were shown to our table, where we ordered martinis and dug into our appetizers of shrimp pakoras, which were bursting with fresh shrimp flavor, and mussels in a terrific coconut curry with fresh chiles. The coriander chutney, a gorgeous green sauce accompanying the pakoras, was oddly flat considering the punch that fresh coriander usually has.

On the recommendation of the kind and helpful hostess, Lisa Belt, we ordered a 2003 Lagrein Alto Adige to have with our entrées. First was the evening's special of seared ahi tuna marinated in lemon and black pepper and served with a coconut curry and chayote squash. The tuna was perfectly cooked and slightly pink in the middle, and the lemon and black pepper counterpointed the lushness of the curry. The chayote squash was a fun addition, with it's braised apple-y color and texture.

The second dish was the house pork Vindalho, pork shoulder braised with chilies, garlic and vinegar. This deeply flavored, richly sauced pig was served with mildly flavored saffron rice and topped with deep-fried slivers of julienned potatoes. It's a dish to be envious of, and one I'm going to try to duplicate at home sometime. I love pork shoulder, that cheap, fatty, chunky cut that's exquisite for braising and has tons of flavor, enough to stand up to heavy spicing, which is why it's used in everything from chili to pulled pork.

We skipped the sides and condiments, of which there are many, so coming with a crowd would be a great chance to sample more dishes on their menu, plus you'd get to impress lots of people all at once with your restaurant selection prowess. The staff works hard to impress, and Mr. Machado himself was bringing food to the tables the night we were there.

The only drawback we found was with the cocktails. We just weren't impressed with the skills of the bartender on duty that night, and our martinis sat on the bar for a good five minutes before they were brought to our table, a definite no-no in cocktail-land.

But, all in all, you'll like everything about this place. It's very adult and very enjoyable, and the fact that it's located on a little-used stretch of lower SE Clinton St. makes it a perfect hidden treasure.

Details: Vindalho, 2038 SE Clinton St.; Phone 503-467-4550.

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