Oven and Shaker: A New Portland Pearl

We are huge fans of pizza, Italian food in general and anything Nostrana owner Cathy Whims does. Anything. Nostrana is one of our favorite restaurants because everything is just really damn good (review here). We go there when we want pizza, when we want a reasonably priced nice dinner, and to check out fresh olive oil every year for their Olio Nuovo (link to the 2010 version we had) series of dishes that highlight the flavors.

So when we found out Whims was opening a new place, a small plates bar with pizza, in Portland's Pearl District, OF COURSE it went to the top of our neverending list of restaurants we need to try. While Oven and Shaker, on NW Everett between 11th and 12th, took much longer to open than many (including I'm sure Whims herself) expected to open, it was well worth the wait.

Wifey and I checked it out on a Tuesday around 4:30pm (open daily 4-midnight). When we got there there were only a couple other tables taken - it's a decent-sized space, much bigger than it looks from the outside - but by the time we left an hour later it was probably well over 3/4 full. It's an open space, with some tables, bar seating, and communal tables as well. The kitchen is open at one end with the pizza oven dominating the area, not unlike the setup at Nostrana.

Food is served as the kitchen finishes it, just like at Toro Bravo and Tasty N Sons, rather than in traditional courses. We ordered three dishes to share and the first one that came was the cazzilli - potato and parmagiano croquettes that are then fried.

Yum! Despite the frying these weren't greasy in the least and the potato mixture inside was soft, practically melting in your mouth. The parm and chives made these little bites quite tasty, and for the $5 price you get seven of them, roughly the length and thickness of two-three fingers.

Our second item was the arancini with saffron risotto, pork, and pea ragu. We had our first arancini at the Garden State food cart. Those were small - golf ball sized - and stuffed with mozzarella and a bit of veggie of some sort. The O&S version is similar, but it's the size of a baseball.

Again, very nicely balanced and even the peas were tasty. The pool of olive oil at the bottom was a nice touch. When we were finished this plate was clean. At $4 this was also a solid value.

Lastly, we had to order pizza, choosing the wild fennel sausage pizza with potato, tomato, chilies, scallions and smoked mozzarella.

Unlike at Nostrana, this pizza comes from the kitchen cut into six slices. It also seems to be a slightly sturdier crust than the Nostrana version. That's not better or worse, just nominally but noticeably different. The middle, for example, isn't nearly as soft and holds its form better at O&S.

We weren't sure about potatoes on pizza at first - and honestly, I'm still not sure - but this worked. The sausage had great flavor and overall the pizza had a great balance. The smoked mozzarella really shined. At $16, this is the most expensive thing on the menu (four other pizzas are also the same price, but many are less also).

All of that for $25 was a very satisfying meal. Between the two of us we polished off everything but two of the cazzilli and one slice of pizza. The service was attentive and seemed to have a solid understanding of the menu, which is always appreciated.

Funny side story: Our waitress took our leftovers back to the kitchen to be wrapped. After what seemed like unduly long amount of time, plus us having to ask for them because the restaurant became very busy, we saw her talking with the manager, who then came over to our table and handed us our wrapped leftovers. He was all apologetic (paraphrasing here). "I hate to tell you this, but I dropped one of your slices of pizza on the floor while wrapping it up. Can I make it up to you by firing a brand new one for you, at no charge?"

Um, yes. Of course you can. Absolutely.

But after he walked away to put in that order for a full pizza to go (remember, $16 value), Wifey and looked at each other funny. "Um," I said, "we only had one slice left over, right? And that's it right here, all wrapped up?" Wifey agreed. Oh, and I seriously doubt it was him who dropped anything, because I never saw him off the main restaurant floor, let alone wrapping up food. That's a strong managerial move, even if it's a blatant misdirection. As a customer I appreciate the manager, who presumably can rectify anything, taking the lead.

So what happened? Did they drop the one piece and wrap it up anyway? Or did they drop someone else's and think it was ours? If we get a free pizza, do we care? Heck, if we are worried about it, we could just throw the one piece away, because we are getting a whole new one, right? No matter what - score!

As it turns out, there must have been something lost in translation. When we opened up the leftovers at home, there was only a single cazzillo (singular of cazzilli?) instead of two, so we assume the one piece of pizza is fine and the other cazzillo was what fell to the floor in the kitchen and likely thrown away. If you are keeping track of home, a single cazzillo cost us about 72 cents...and one dropped on the floor netted us a $16 pizza.

That is more than anyone should reasonably expect, but you can't deny it's awesome customer service. We would have made it a priority to return to O&S anyway because the meal was excellent in every sense, but free pizza? Can't top that can you?

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