I met a friend at Café Castagna recently, and after exchanging pleasantries over drinks at the bar we decided to dip our metaphorical toes in the water, starting with chef Kevin (aka The Handsome One) Gibson's incredible soup, a smooth, delicious purée of celery root with chives and garlic croutons. It's a perfect interpretation of spring, with the frisée of young chives sparking the deeply flavorful celery root and the croutons adding a nice textural crunch.
The next items on the docket were six of the smallest, most delicate Fanny Bay oysters I've ever seen. I skipped the fresh horseradish and mignonette to gulp these tiny jewels and their juice all by themselves. Most of the time when people order fresh oysters they feel they need to have a champagne or other sparkling wine, but these were perfect with a glass of dry, flinty German riesling recommended by our most excellent bartender, David.
And, before we get to the burger debate, I have to rave about their butter lettuce salad, a whole head of tender leaves tossed with a fresh tarragon vinaigrette and then reassembled and served. Talk about essence of spring! I melt every time I have it, and it's just the right size for two people to share.
Now for the boxing gloves. I've had many people tell me that this café makes the best burger in town, and I have to say it's a pretty terrific entry in Portland's burger sweepstakes. The menu lists it as a simple hamburger and fries, it weighs in at 11 smackers with extra for bacon or cheese, and it's a tidy package on the smaller end of the burger scale so you don't feel completely stuffed when you finish the equally outstanding matchstick fries. It's served with marinated white onions, a leaf of butter lettuce and Heinz ketchup. Their signature homemade pickles are so excellent that I choose to consume them separately, and would take home a jarful in a second if I could get my hands on one.
So now it's your turn. Which Portland area restaurant makes the best burger in your humble opinion? Keep the gloves on, be polite but let's hear what you think!
Details: Cafe Castagna, 1758 SE Hawthorne. Phone 231-9959.