Bread and Brew • Remodeled Genoa is still a dining event
It's a common misconception that nobody in Portland cared about food until the 1990s. That's not true.
Genoa opened in 1971, serving northern Italian feasts in a bookish environment. When I ate there in 2004, it was still going strong, despite newer competition and the daunting seven-course format, complete with a daunting price of $70 a person.
I returned this month to find a successful mix of new and old. There's a new owner, Patricia Eiting, a new chef, David Anderson, and a remodeled dining room. But the same china hutch still sits in its accustomed spot against the west wall, and for a first course, there's still the same lentil soup.
Well, not quite the same. The menu roams throughout Italy, and different regions are highlighted on a rotating, two-week basis. The mountains of Umbria were the inspiration for dinner the night I was there. Our five-course, prix fixe meal began with lenticchie di Castelluccio, a rustic soup of tiny tender lentils splashed with olive oil.
The pasta course that followed was a high point, even when, in the case of 'nude' ravioli, there was no actual pasta involved. Ignudi di ortiche was a grassy, creamy blend of spring nettles and ricotta, shaped into chubby cigars and wrapped in pink pancetta. Tagliolini - fresh, kinky egg noodles with the look of ramen - were satisfyingly chewy and simply dressed with butter, garlic, parsley and hints of black truffle.
There were three choices of entrée for the night. Not being fans of fennel, we skipped the trout with fennel seed and a warm fennel salad. The squab, partially boned and cooked under a brick, was excellent: crackling and savory on the outside, delicately dusky within.
Wild boar loin was pan roasted to a tender medium rare and came across more like steak than like pork. Slices were arranged above a dark, sweet sauce, almost like a Mexican mole, made of unsweetened chocolate, prosciutto, pine nuts and prunes. The boar was accompanied by a mealy, unappealingly starchy disc of chestnut custard - the only dud of the night. Overall, the dish struck me as more high-concept than it needed to be.
Genoa's setting calls for authenticity, and also for luxury, both because of its history and because of its elegant new interior. The cascading light from large fixtures of burnt-orange glass shines down on white linen and a polished wooden floor. Service is excellent, with the steady rotation of glasses, plates, bowls and cutlery flowing smoothly and providing a sense of ceremony, rather than of fuss.
For dessert, a chocolate soufflé seemed in order, and it was both authentic and luxurious. It's a warm chocolate version of those clouds in religious paintings that are simultaneously light enough to float through the air and substantial enough to support a chorus of angels.
Dinner here is definitely an event. Don't bring anyone with whom you're not ready to have at least two hours of conversation.
Also included in Genoa's update is the opening of a more casual café in the corner spot next store. It's called Accanto, and has a full bar, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on weekends.
Genoa, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2832 S.E. Belmont St., 503-238-1464, www.genoarestaurant.com , dinner $55