A Last Dinner at Alba Osteria

Earlier this month we got some bad news: Alba Osteria, an Italian restaurant in Hillsdale, would be closing it's doors at the end of this year. Considering Alba is one of the top Italian places in Portland and one we've been to multiple times, we decided to give it a proper goodby - by spending money and stuffing our stomachs.

What better way to say goodbye to a favorite restaurant? Wifey and I decided we wouldn't do gifts this year, but instead we decided to pick out some restaurants. We each chose a new one and one we wanted to revisit - with the news Alba was closing, my revisit choice suddenly became very, very easy.

We didn't bring the camera this time - this was a meal to be simply enjoyed, savored. No cameras needed.

The little town of Hillsdale is just up the hill out of downtown Portland, and Alba resides just off the main road in a converted house (I think - it sure wasn't designed for a restaurant) along with a spa, a salon, and at the opposite end of the building Caffe Autogrille, run by the same owner as Alba.

I believe the first time we went to Alba was for one of our birthdays a long time ago. We had been a couple times since, always for special occasions, but probably not nearly as often as we really would prefer. With so many other options in Portland, it's hard for us to go back to a place. Not that we don't, just that we aren't as likely. So many new and enticing places open all the time, so much goodness to try...

When we arrived, perhaps the first customers of the night at 5:30pm to avoid the dinner rush, we were given freshly baked crostini, long and thin like a breadstick. Then came fresh bread and butter.

Dinner at Alba is at once all about the pasta and not only about the pasta. All of the pastas are made by hand at the restaurant and always a delight. We each ordered a first course and then shared: gnocchi in a leek and cream sauce, and agnolotti dal plin filled with ground pork, veal, and rabbit in a light butter sauce.

Both were magnificent.

The gnocchi at Alba are always so light and fluffy they seem to simply melt in your mouth like little fluffy pillows. Clouds on your tongue. The ones I made at home in the past - I've about given up on them with so many options out and about who do it way better than me - never get that lightness.

And the agnolotti? While tiny, they pack a serious amount of flavor, meaty goodness hand-wrapped with care. I could eat these for days.

But at $16 each, neither dish is cheap nor is it filling. Unless one has a very small appetite it's simply not enough. Then again, when I think about making the dough for the agnolotti, cutting them out, scooping out little mounds of meat, and then wrapping them up one at a time, I get it. Considering all of that $16 sounds like a good deal.

Quality costs money, right?

Our main course was a grilled pork loin on a bed of celery root mash and pickled cabbage, then drizzled with basalmic vinegar. Our waitress asked the kitchen to split the order in half (it comes as two pieces of pork - it wasn't cut in half specially for us) and it came on two separate plates, each nicely made up, and each with a serving of pork that was plenty. The mash had great flavor and while I don't normally go for pickled cabbage, when combined with a little mash and a piece of pork dipped in the puddled basalmic, that was a little taste of heaven. The pork was perfectly cooked, with a nice crust on the outside and cooked through with plenty of moisture.

While $16 may seem steep for a small dish of pasta, $19 for an entree big enough for us to split and still have a small amount of leftovers is a steal.

We weren't going to get dessert...but decided to look at the menu anyway, figuring it's probably our last visit so what the heck. And we ordered a apple crostata - basically a free-form apple pie - topped with a small scoop of ice cream. Oh my...oh my. So good. Baked to order, this dessert just had the perfect balance of apple, ice cream, and crust. We have a recipe at home we've been meaning to try - might have to finally do it, see if it's anywhere near as good.

For $8 it wasn't a bad deal - it fed both of us, satisfying our sweet tooth and ensuring we would leave the table stuffed.

In no uncertain terms I love this restaurant and it's sad the city of Portland's food lovers will lose it. The good news is the pasta Portlanders love so much will still be available at Caffe Autogrille - fresh to go - and reportedly will also be coming to local grocery stores.

If this is our last visit to Alba, we truly will miss you.

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