Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Seat at the Table

We're kind of odd when it comes to special occasions. Yes, we love to go out and let someone else do the cooking, but rather than going to that high-end, multi-course, highly-reviewed temple that we've been thinking about trying, we opt for a favorite spot, a place where the high-falutin' is at a minimum and the food is the center of attention.

Glasses clink, Chef Anthony cooks.

Our reasoning is simple: if we're going to drop some significant dollars at a place, we'd rather our money goes to people we care about, who've treated us well in the past. Where the focus of the evening is celebrating the occasion, not whether the waiter refills our glasses in a timely fashion.

So when our anniversary rolled around, for the second year in a row we chose one of our under-the-radar faves and a place where the food never disappoints, Tabla on NE 28th. Drinks were in hand almost as soon as we could take our seats at the chef's bar within kibitzing range of Chef Anthony Cafiero, whose dedication to farmers' markets alone would seal the deal for me, but who also likes to play with his food in incredibly tasty ways.

We decided to go with the three-courses-for-$24 option, which gave us two apps, two pasta dishes and two entrees, a lot of (but not too much) food and a chance to share bites of lots of things, a plus on any occasion when it comes to Anthony's cooking.

The baby octopus featured among the apps was, according to Anthony, more of an adolescent, and the meaty but tender slices were served salad style with black olives, greens and cherry tomatoes (top photo). There was also a little taste for each of us of an ajo blanco (right, above), or garlic almond soup, with half of a sweetly ripe Oregon cherry instead of the traditional grapes. Perfetto!

The wine we chose was an earthy red from the Jura region of France, an '07 Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes (left above) from Stephane Tissot. To me, reds are appropriate with just about any food, and this one matched the cavatelli pasta with meltingly tender beef shin (right) ever so well, the little curled rounds looking like so many luscious pasta caterpillars. (How many other food blogs will you read that description in? None!)

The albacore ala plancha (left) that I ordered for my main was genius, the tuna seared to just done-ness on the outside and pinkly rare in the center, two good-sized chunks on top of a to-die-for smoked corn-and-tomato salsa on one side and green lentils in a creamy wine reduction on the other. My mouth was so happy! And Dave's stuffed duck confit on tiny potato slices with seared greens was simplicity (and deliciousness) itself.

Call us risk-averse cowards if you like, but this meal, like the anniversary, was something to celebrate!

Details: Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, 200 NE 28th Ave. 503 238 3777.

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