Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Lunchin' in a Favorite Spot

Growing up in Redmond, my mother would bless me with a day off from school and take me to the big city of Bend and the Pine Tavern for shopping and a "ladies lunch." Overlooking a sloping lawn with a stunning view of Mirror Pond on the Deschutes River, and with a 200-year-old pine tree growing up through floor and through the roof, it's always set the standard for a perfect mid-day repast.

Now, I love the lunches at Nostrana and Lorenzo's but it's nice to have more choices. So I was thrilled when I heard awhile ago that one of my favorite places in all of Portland, Café Castagna, was opening for lunch starting this week. I immediately made plans with fellow Castagna groupie Kim to go for their opening day.

We hit the jackpot with fabulous weather, the garden in full and glorious bloom (I'm totally enamored with the cardoon plants, those tall leafy things against the architectural!) and a table for two on the patio. The menu is a somewhat simplified version of their dinner menu, with three pizzas, their fabulous burger and fries, a pasta dish, appetizers and desserts. Plus a great idea for lunch, half orders of two of their terrific salads.

We opted to share a bowl of their Ten Treasures soup (above, right), a light broth with bit of artichoke, spring onions, fava beans, chives and peas, a perfect portrait of spring's first harvest. We followed that with a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a creamy green goddess dressing, the crunch of the lettuce offset by the richness of the chive-studded dressing.

Their featured pasta that day was chitarra with grilled scallops, tossed with preserved lemons,a "really good" Ligurian olive oil and a mild Italian green, agretti, that I'd never had before. Tubular in shape and about two inches long, owner Monique Siu said they'd had it in London recently and found a grower here who could supply them with some plants for the garden. Apparently native to marshy areas, it reminded me of sea beans with the same crunchy texture and mildly green flavor. With a couple of glasses of icy cold jewel-like rose, it made a wonderful and reasonably priced lunch.

Details: Cafe Castagna, 1758 SE Hawthorne on the corner of Poplar and Hawthorne. Phone 503-231-9959.

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