Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

People here in the Northwest start feeling a tad sun-deprived about this time of year. We've had a few warm, sunny days, but now we're in that darkness-before-dawn phase of spring. Folks are itching to plant vegetables in the garden and to go out on long hikes in the woods, but the ratio of mud to boots is still daunting.

Autentica's house margarita.

I'm finding myself dreaming about tropical beaches at sunset, or remembering long summer evenings sipping cocktails in the back yard. So when the neighbors wanted to meet us for dinner, I immediately suggested a trip to Mexico via NE Killingsworth.

The nopal cactus salad.

We hadn't been to Autentica for a couple of years and a large margarita was sounding mighty appealing, so as soon as we were seated (or was it even before all of us were in the door?) we ordered a round of their delicious lime-packed house concoctions, which might rate as among the best margaritas in Portland.

More cactus, this time relleno style.

They came almost immediately (what, had someone called ahead and warned them?) and as we slurped our first round we chose a couple of appetizers and a salad to share. The salad of strips of nopal cactus tossed with avocado, tomatoes and crunchy radishes, lightly dressed and topped with cilantro was terrific, as was the shrimp and avocado salad. Both were perfectly fresh and hit just the right notes for flavor and visual appeal. The octopus salad was equally fresh with the two curled arms a gorgeous shimmering black, but suffered from a chewy, overcooked texture. Sad, because when this salad is fresh there is nothing like it.

Carne ranchera, grilled beef in an ocean of beans.

Entrees ran the gamut from grilled pork loin served with black beans and a verde sauce (top photo) to a paddle of nopal split and stuffed relleno style, the cheese oozing out from the edges and served with a mild, creamy red chile sauce. The order of beans, lapping up against an island of steak topped with ranchero sauce and more of those cactus strips, was outstanding and possibly the best dish of the evening.


It had stiff competition from the carnitas, falling apart in its chile-inflected marinade with a side of red chile sauce. And I'd like to take a moment to sing the praises of all the sauces we had, each uniquely complementing the dish it was served with for taste, texture and heat. In a cuisine known for its complex salsas, it's rare to find a place with such a wide-ranging selection, and speaks volumes about the care taken with each dish.

And since we'd come this far together, we decided to dive in and do dessert, too, sharing two slices of heaven in the form of a trés leches cake and the lime torte on the right. Both were incredible, the cake rich and moist, the torte, a pie, really, light yet rich and infused with enough lime to make that certain tang at the back of my tongue.

If we hadn't had to leave and head out into the chill, I'd be willing to suspend my disbelief and think I was in a little restaurant in Oaxaca. Not a bad feeling to have on a chilly Portland evening.

Details: Autentica, 5507 NE 30th St. 503-287-7555.

No comments: