Castagna Restau­rant

Deca­dent Din­ing in Port­land, OR

Upscale Living Magazine - - Content - | BY TRACY ELLEN BEARD

Over the last ten years, Port­land, Ore­gon, has ex­pe­ri­enced an ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in the num­ber of new high­end res­tau­rants. With the in­flux of new din­ing op­tions, only the best have with­stood the test of time and Castagna is one of them.


Owner Monique Siu opened Castagna 18 years ago, and to­day Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Justin Wood­ward in­dwells the heart of the kitchen. He has fash­ioned mul­ti­ple menus for din­ers to choose from; but if you de­sire a su­pe­rior culi­nary ad­ven­ture, or­der the chef’s tast­ing menu paired with Wine Di­rec­tor/Som­me­lier Brent Braun’s spe­cially se­lected bev­er­ages.

This dy­namic chef/som­me­lier duo works closely to­gether to create com­bi­na­tions boast­ing mag­nif­i­cent dishes paired with a va­ri­ety of wines and li­ba­tions. Chef Wood­ward said, “I like to keep things sea­sonal, and I try to be cre­ative with our fla­vors and our pre­sen­ta­tion. I have fun with our plate-ups and al­ways want to keep us on our toes.”

The team at Castagna is not only known in the Port­land area but also is rec­og­nized by the culi­nary world at large. Chef Wood­ward shared with me that he has not in­ten­tion­ally la­bored to re­ceive awards; how­ever, he is thrilled to have been nom­i­nated for the James Beard Foun­da­tion’s Best Chef North­west award for the last four years, and for the Foun­da­tion’s Ris­ing Star Chef award in 2013. He chuck­led and said, “I just keep do­ing what I’m do­ing.” Brent also has a claim to fame. He re­ceived StarChef’s 2018 Ris­ing Star award and was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Som­me­liers of the Year in 2017.


The chef’s tast­ing menu is usu­ally a dozen cour­ses, but I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that many cour­ses in­clude more than one bite-size de­light. Ini­ti­at­ing the event with a glass of bub­bly, I set­tled in for a night of feast­ing.

The meal com­menced with a selec­tion of “snacks.” The falafel of hal­ibut mousse with bib let­tuce and vi­o­let mus­tard was fla­vor­ful with a rich abun­dance of tex­tures, while the Shigoku oys­ter from Hood Canal bathed in chicken con­sommé was a deca­dent gift from the sea. The fol­low­ing course, al­ba­core tuna with rice sake, fresh al­monds and wasabi was light and re­fresh­ing. Brent bril­liantly paired the dishes above with ev­ery­thing from a light sake and pear cider, to a bright and tasty orange wine.


Brent joined me for a few mo­ments, and I asked him, “With the vast num­ber of wines in the world, how do you choose for a chef’s tast­ing menu?” He ex­plained that he has a kind of rubric in his head that a wine or li­ba­tion must meet.

Brent said, “Chef Wood­ward’s food is fo­cused and el­e­gant with­out a ton of com­po­nents on the plate.” When Brent se­lects wines for the menu, he said he asks him­self these ques­tions: “What would work with that dish? What is in­ter­est­ing? What is from a re­gion not overly rep­re­sented? What is not too clas­si­cal of a pair­ing? And fi­nally, what is a spe­cial wine that is ei­ther un­der­rep­re­sented or highly rep­re­sented and there­fore al­lo­cated so that nor­mal con­sumers don’t ever get to try it.”


The din­ner pro­gressed with a course of sum­mer beans in an aro­matic cream, squid with so­ci­ety gar­lic blos­som, and a stun­ning piece of Sal­ish Sea hal­ibut wrapped in Swiss chard over tomato, fava beans and a ramp sauce. The foie gras spread like but­ter over the huck­le­berry muf­fin, and sum­mer botan­i­cals and a white alpine straw­berry adorned the plate fea­tur­ing squab. Brent mar­ried the squab with a Beau­jo­lais, and then we moved on to a curii “giro” Va­len­cia Al­i­cante with spicy black pep­per notes which per­fectly com­ple­mented the herba­ceous beef­steak.

Dessert cour­ses ar­rived with rhubarb and a buck­wheat tu­ile, straw­berry cream cheese tarts, and shards of hon­ey­comb cus­tard with al­monds and al­mond paste. The fi­nal treat was mind-blow­ing, a caramelized po­tato skin ice cream with but­ter­milk granita and aged sherry vine­gar, all topped with toasted meringue pieces.

Monique’s se­cret to stay­ing in busi­ness is se­lect­ing first-rate tal­ent for her team. Both Chef Wood­ward and Brent fancy try­ing new things en­sur­ing that food of­fer­ings and li­ba­tions are al­ways de­li­cious and in­no­va­tive. Whether you are a first-timer or a reg­u­lar at Castagna, book your next culi­nary ad­ven­ture with this in­ven­tive team and take plea­sure in what they dream up for the up­com­ing sea­sons.

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