A few months ago I posted something about a couple pizza places we visited and detailed how I feel about pizza, having spent a couple months in Italy eating the real stuff.

I'm not necessarily someone that has to have authentic Italian pizza to consider it good, but there are key things I do need: fresh ingredients, great crust, and a hot hot hot oven. Now, I loved Apizza Scholls and Ken's Artisan Pizza, but I don't know that I would necessarily call them authentic - close and excellent, but they didn't give me the same Italian experience I remember from Perugia.

Enter Nostrana. This has been near the top of our list for months, and we finally made it there for lunch the other day. The pizza is supposed to be excellent as well as the rest of the food. When you enter Nostrana you don't necessarily get an Italian feel - instead, it seems more like a mountain cabin, with high windows, a cavernous open floor plan, and a huge bar.

Well, until you look to the back and see the wood burning oven:

The Official Nostrana Oven

By the way, did you know some restaurants don't like it when customers take pictures? Wifey asked and Nostrana didn't mind, but apparently some places don't like free advertising on blogs like this. Odd. The only thing I can think of is maybe they don't think everything is their best presentation... I don't necessarily care that much about perfect presentation, but I wouldn't think they'd serve anything that would embarrass them.

And Nostrana did not. Not in any way. First thing we got was some bread and olive oil.

Fresh Bread, Fresh Olive Oil

Good Italian bread is very airy, with a crunchy crust and soft insides - this was perfect. I will also confess to not being much of an olive oil snob, but after this stuff I might change my mind. It was so fresh I could literally taste the freshness of the olives, something I've never gotten in olive oil before. Apparently I shouldn't buy just any olive oil - duly noted for the next shopping trip.

Our first dish was a meatball fettucine with tomato butter sauce, topped with fresh parmigano (apparently Mondays are Meatball Mondays - which probably means grinding up the unused cuts from the weekend, but again, I really don't mind at all).

Meatball Fettucine

This was excellent. The meatballs (which were beef and pork, if I remember correctly) literally melted in your mouth and the noodles were light, not like the thick fettucine you get at American Italian restaurants. And the sauce...wow. I have never had tomato butter sauce before, but it was very, very good.

Secondly, we had to get pizza. We decided on the classic margherita, a simple tomato, basil and mozzarella. Both Wifey and I used to be all about packing pizza with toppings, but recently we've decided we prefer the simplicity of a pizza like this - all the better to enjoy the flavors.

Pizza Margherita

You can see the crust looks properly blackened - it had an excellent crunch in all the right places, but was still soft and pleasing to the tongue. In fact, they served it uncut with scissors, which actually makes it pretty easy to cut. The mozzarella was very fresh - and doesn't it make for nice coloring? - and the fresh basil added just the right touch of "green" flavor.

To be real honest, I could take a bite of this, close my eyes, and imagine myself at a cafe in Perugia, enjoying the warm day and watching shoppers walk by in the main square. If that's not a compliment, I don't know what is.

Nostrana, quite simply, is the best Italian restaurant I've been to in Portland - and the most authentic. (I have not yet been to Genoa, but if you have suggestions on places I should go, by all means leave a comment!)

I'm not going to say the pizza is better than Apizza Scholls or Ken's Artisan though - it's different. It's the most true Italian (you want better? go to Italy), but it all depends on your mood. If you want true Italian, go here. If you just want good pizza, any of the three will do.

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