Next Portland Dining Month 2012 destination: a dinner at Oven & Shaker, the new venture from Cathy Whims of Nostrana fame and success (including being a James Beard Finalist 2012). This new joint is in the Pearl District and focused more on the pizzas and cocktails. For $25, you get to choose a salad, pizza, and scoop of housemade gelato or sorbetto. We sat at the counter right in front of the pizza oven, and got to see for ourselves the assembly line as they carefully created each pizza and as soon as the food was ready, a runner was called to dispatch it hot to the table.
We started out with the Nostrana salad with radicchio, parmigiano, rosemary-sage croutons, Cæsar style dressing, with the creamyness of the Caeser dressing countering the slight bitterness of the radicchio, and also the Shephard salad with spring greens, pickled onion, walnut vinaigrette, egg, goat cheese, bruschetta (but without the egg). Both salads were great starters.
The pizzas, fresh from the wood oven burning pizza: Wild Fennel Sausage – potato, tomato, chilies, scallions, smoked mozzarella and Wild Mushroom – yellow foot and hedgehog mushrooms, fontina, green garlic. Both also delicious in different ways, the sausage balancing the seasoned sausage with little bites of spicy chili, while the mushroom slight crispness at the top from the oven was a nice textural contrast to the fresh green garlic. We definitely want to go back- as we watched the pizza production we were quite intrigued by the zucchini pizza we saw with chili oil, spring herbs, and finished with willdflower honey and marscapone.
We finished with a bay leaf gelato and a strawberry sorbetto, each topped with a waffle cone triangle. My drink, the Pineapple Trainwreck original, was nice as well, a mix of Bacardi Anejo, freshly pressed lemon juice, in house pressed and extracted pineapple juice, with some house made spicy ginger syrup and dashes of Peychaud Bitters and Angostura Bitters.There were plenty of other impressive, varied selections on the cocktail menu as well which also are calling me back to try them out.
It seems that Oven & Shaker does do justice its namesakes of producing good food from the oven and shaker, if you are the right audience. They have some regular topping combination pizzas, but others that rotate seasonally, and as we saw from our seats, they do use quality ingredients for their toppings, and put them together in unique new combinations. The restaurant is loud and feels communal in terms of how close all the seats are, with the space clean with some wood for warmth as universal mingling music plays in the background as you are surrounded by trendsters as the vibe around is definitely outgoing.
The kitchen is churning out those pizzas as fast as they can, and send them to you as soon as they are ready, but in the small space they have, there is only room for about 4 people, and only so many in the oven, so hopefully you are not looking for a fast experience- you are willing to be patient and focus on socializing while waiting (oh, they are "casual" so don't take reservationsm only walk in and be lucky or walk in and get your name on the list), and you are looking for creative unusual combinations atop pizza not the traditional comfort ones full of cheese, and you are forgiving on dough.
They do have some other bites, but I didn't see many of those going out the kitchen… and while we enjoyed our salad and pizzas, the dessert was nothing special so try another dessert offering. Still, I might try some next time, if there are enough to share pizzas instead like in this visit ordering one individual pizza per person (each pizza is probably enough for two).