A new Italian restaurant is open in downtown Portland, Mucca Osteria, on SW Morrison between 10th and 11th, right on the westbound MAX tracks. The chef, Simone Savaiano, is a native of Rome, but moved to the U.S., married an American from Los Angeles, worked in Santa Monica for five years, then they traveled. On that trip they came to Portland, loved it, and moved here.
I am, selfishly, glad they did. The restaurant is two levels, with stairs that go up to the second floor balcony (you can see the railing in the picture below). There are tables on the main floor and a few seats at the bar of the open kitchen. (As always, click on the picture for a larger version.)
Wifey and I visited on a Friday night, arriving just as they opened at 5:30pm (they are also open for lunch). We were first, but the restaurant had tables available for anyone who may have walked by. The staff was very knowledgeable, helpful with questions, and gave us space while at the same time very attentive. Mucca's menu is online, but don't take it as gospel - the actual menu was slightly different, and they have chalkboard specials.
First we were brought housemade bread, two slices each of a ciabatta, a sourdough, and a dark, nutty bread. All of them were excellent, and even tastier with the wonderful olive oil provided for dipping.
We decided on an appetizer of burrata (see here for a definition of burrata) with heirloom tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar.
This entire dish was fantastic. The balsamic, in particular, really made everything pop, and the burrata was a revelation. I may never be satisfied with "normal" fresh mozzarella again. See the dark spots on top? A black salt, perfect for the dish. I could eat this all day.
Wifey ordered gnochetti with gorgonzola cheese, Italian sausage and walnuts (watch Simone make it!) These small puffs of pasta were not overpowered by the flavor of the gorgonzola, a mistake many restaurants can (and do) make. The sausage had plenty of flavor, providing welcome bursts of spice.
I ordered the spaghetti amatraciana with guanciale and San Marzano tomatoes. Again, fantastic flavors. The sauce had a pleasant creaminess to it, with the guanciale providing punches of meatiness.
I knew I wanted a glass of wine with dinner, but looking at the long wine list all in Italian I didn't know what to choose (well, actually, by the glass there are only two whites and two reds to choose from). At the suggestion of the staff based on the pastas we ordered, we went with a red: Cannonau di Sardegna d.o.c. Feudi della Medusa 2007 (from Sardegna). This was the smoother of the two and it was very pleasant on the tongue, almost velvety. Great flavor as well.
One note about the pastas: Depending on how much you normally eat and how hungry you are, it may not be enough. They are created with fantastic flavor and an exceptional level of skill, but the servings may be considered small compared to other restaurants. Don't worry about it - order an appetizer too.
Or two desserts, like we did.
The first was a vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh blueberry sauce. Panna cotta is something we love to order (especially if it's vanilla bean) and so fancy ourselves amateur experts; this may be the best we've had in town. Look at the picture below - see how the panna cotta holds its shape? Usually it seems to be served in a dish and if I had to guess there is no way it would stay together served on a plate like this. And yet, it still has all the soft creaminess necessary for a great version of the classic. The blueberries were a nice addition and the vanilla flavor was, well, perfect. I'd go back just to eat one of these. Or two.
The other dessert, almost as good, was a flourless chocolate cake with strawberry reduction and balsamic vinegar drizzled around the plate. Dense and moist, the chocolate tasted of high quality and the strawberry added the perfect amount of sweetness to go with the rich dark chocolate. One bite of all three flavors is about as close to the perfect dessert as one can get.
With our desserts we were also served complimentary glasses of a white dessert wine. It was a moscato called Dinderello from the Maculan winery in Veneto. We were told it had fig flavors, which I am not a fig person so I don't know, but it has a wonderful smell and a flavor to match. Sweet, but not too sweet like most dessert wines, especially the local ones. Oregon has a great, young wine industry, but it's going to be a long time before they can realistically compete with the centuries old vines from the old world.
Dinner wasn't cheap, but not crazy either. $69 for an appetizer, two pasta dishes, two desserts, and a glass of wine isn't that bad, but I would pay this gladly every single time. There was not one thing we didn't like about the meal or the service and we plan on making this a regular stop.
There's just one thing that's bothering me. They need more customers! We walked in on a Friday night in downtown Portland and were seated right away. Sure, it was early, but when we left over an hour later, we still would have been seated immediately. Mucca is quickly becoming a food favorite and has been written up in The Oregonian (see above), but they still aren't that busy. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily want a line out the door of my favorite restaurant so cumbersome I decide to go elsewhere or work my schedule around it (like, say, Toro Bravo or Tasty n Sons), but more customers to assure Mucca's continued success would be nice.
By writing this and telling people about the virtues of the restaurant I'm doing what I can do to help them out - even though the number of people who will read this I can count on my fingers and toes (yep, toes too, moving on up...) - so hopefully it's enough to convince people to give Mucca a try. I guarantee if I help get you in the door, Mucca will do the rest to ensure you return and tell your friends.