Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quick Hits: Cyril's, NobleONI, Davenport

My comfort zone isn't hard to find. Smart, friendly, low-maintenance people are definitely in that zone and qualify as nearly instant friends, the kind you meet and say, "I like you!" That pretty much fits the description of my kind of restaurant, too, where you walk in for the first time and a staff person smiles and greets you. Where you sit down and instantly feel taken care of, and when the food comes it isn't pretentious or priced beyond reason.

A place I've taken to lately is Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery, where Sasha Davies, renowned cheese maven and author of two books on the subject, opened a cheese shop-cum-café with her partner Michael Claypool, a winemaker. The big square-ish room has a scattering of beautiful wooden tables and chairs, the large windows on the street serve double duty spilling light into the space and providing bar seating, while the cheese counter and kitchen fill one corner.

Involtini di melanzane, a recent "Fixe" entrée.

The lunch menu is a well-curated selection of salads and sandwiches, with a killer macaroni and cheese (top photo) and a special called "The Fixe," a three-course lunch—salad, seasonal main and either dessert or wine—for $15. On the website, Sasha explains that Cyril's was named after her paternal grandfather, admitting that while she didn't know him well, "I simply remember that I liked how it felt to be around him…I am hopeful that [Cyril's] will have that magical quality that makes people simply enjoy being there." I do!

Details: Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery, 815 SE Oak St. 503-206-7862.

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The Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC) has been sitting on its hillside in southwest Portland as long as I can remember. Designed by famed local architect John Storrs, known for other Oregon landmark properties like Salishan and the World Forestry Center, and landscape architect Barbara Fealy, the campus has Storrs' signature Northwest Coast-meets-Asian style and is studded with sculptures and artwork on its forested campus.

Find the oni (above)? There he is (left)!

Tucked into the landscape is the college's café, serving students, faculty and the public since it opened in the early 1980s. It was a hidden gem, known for its deliciously simple salads, soups and homemade breads, frequented by a community of cognoscenti. In 2012 the couple who had operated the café for 30 years decided to retire and the college started a search for someone to rejuvenate it. They eventually decided on Leather Storrs, son of the campus architect and owner of his own restaurant in town, Noble Rot.

I visited the newly renamed NobleONI Café as a guest of the college the other day, and its freshened paint and rearranged space reflect the freshening that's happening on the menu. Right now it's open for lunch and brunch in the cozy dining room anchored by a classic Bruce West sculpted fireplace, but as soon as the weather cooperates the favored tables on the patio will open. Look for the signature rustic soups, salads and breads to be joined by housemade meats like porchetta. Rumored are an expansion of brunch, as well as dinner hours and a second patio to let more folks enjoy the warm breezes and the fabled Storrs family hospitality.

Details: NobleONI Café, 8245 SW Barnes Rd. 503-297-5544.

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Long-time readers of Good Stuff NW know that I love Kevin Gibson's cooking, to the point of calling his former place of employment, Evoe at Pastaworks, the best restaurant in Portland. Absolutely market fresh, no one else in town made local and seasonal ingredients sing the way that Gibson could. His light touch, without the need for snazzy foams, whiz-bang gadgets or tricky executions, enhanced the intrinsic flavors locked in prosaic vegetables like delicata squash, artichokes and grapefruit. Not that he didn't debut some exotic, but still local, produce like padron peppers or glacier lettuce—which later took off with chefs around the country—because of his long-standing relationships with some of the areas best specialty farmers.

So I was more than excited when he was finally able to open his own place with a real, though still visually accessible, kitchen with more than a mandoline, a plug-in griddle and an electric oven. A recent early evening at Davenport—named after the town, not the furniture—proved that he's well on his way to repeating, and no doubt besting, the success and accompanying accolades he achieved at Evoe.

The scallops, delicately seared but still pink in the center, were as exquisite as before, this time arranged on a bed of fennel, cucumber and celery slaw with grapefruit sections and dots of pink peppercorns. Salt cod fritters were crispy-crunchy on the outside, creamy smooth on the inside with a Seville orange aioli that required restraint when it came to not licking up the remnant left on the plate. Radicchio salad, wedges of crisp chicory with a drizzle of anchovy dressing under a shower of hard-boiled egg and tiny croutons, was a variation on a Caesar that I would have eaten while Rome burned behind me.

Classic cocktails and the wine list, selected and poured by the unassailable talent of Kurt Heilemann (right), matched the menu selections perfectly. One caveat: the prices here are a bit more than you were used to paying at Evoe, and the tab can add up quickly. My recommendation? Order a couple of plates each with your wine and make plans to return for more soon. It's only gonna get better.

Details: Davenport, 2215 E Burnside St. 503-236-8747.

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