Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Toast on Every Corner!
In his usual incisive way, my brother said it best. "There should be a place like this in every neighborhood."
We were halfway through our dinner at Toast, and he was not only remarking on the quality of the food, which had thus far been outstanding, but also on the noisy intimacy of a place where people come to have a good time and eat well, whether they're celebrating a special occasion or just enjoying being together.
The room itself is a simple box containing an open kitchen and a counter lined with stools, with tables along one wall that might hold 30 people in a pinch. And the ingredients are the same seasonal greens and locally raised meats that can be found at many higher-end restaurants in town.
But those ingredients are treated with a light, understated touch by chef Jonathan Staehr, and it's their bright, fresh flavors that are the stars of the evening, not him. And prices are moderate by any standard, with nothing topping $20 and with most under $15, a bargain considering what you'd pay in other places.
For instance, our starter of a pea salad with baby green beans, pea shoots and speck (above left) was a gorgeous crunchy pile of greenness that tasted like spring. And the clams with white wine, garlic, chorizo and a nettle purée (right) was a hefty explosion of flavor that, at the same time, let the delicate flavor of the Manila clams stand out. And I don't need to tell you we sopped up all the broth we could before letting the dish leave the table.
Dave's pork loin (top photo) was juicy and succulent, with a perfect crust on the outside and just the right pinkness inside, the thick slices sitting on a bed of hearty greens dressed with vinaigrette and fried capers, one of my new favorite ways to serve meat. The house burger (left) was my brother's choice, made from ground hanger steak that makes the patty light and full of flavor. It was amusingly perched between two thick slices of toasted house-baked bread, which have a light texture that holds up to the burger's juiciness and don't fall apart halfway through (a pet peeve, can you tell?). Oh, and if you're a devotée of my brother's blog, this burger has now rocketed to second place on his very tough list of the best in town.
My gnocchi with morels, asparagus and fresh herbs (right) was terrific, the gnocchi seared on the outside but still tender inside so that the meaty texture of the morels had something to bounce off of, the asparagus giving a lightness (there's that word again) to the whole dish.
Dessert was a small scoop of housemade fresh strawberry ice cream with macerated strawberries and two little pound cakes all sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with strawberry syrup, a delight on all counts and perfect for sharing. Especially when owner Donald Kotler brought over two little snifters of Clear Creek Grappa to wash it all down.
So until Donald and Jonathan clone themselves, I guess we'll be driving over to 52nd and Steele more often. Because even if it's not in our neighborhood, it sure feels like home.
Details: Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. Phone 503-774-1020. (Note: Toast will be closed for vacation the first week in July).