Snacks at Castagna

Disclosure: This meal was complimentary, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

I was thrilled when Watershed Communications reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in Snacks, Desserts, and the Unveiling of Big News at Castagna Restaurant. I have heard for a while that Castagna is among the top 3 restaurants in Portland, and it has been my list but I had yet to visit. So I jumped at the chance immediately (literally I jumped up and down) to attend this event with some other esteemed bloggers and try some of the delicious creations of Chef Justin Woodward.
Front of Castagna, one of the top 3 restaurants in Portland Front of Castagna, one of the top 3 restaurants in Portland Inside (just when the restaurant opened) of Castagna, one of the top 3 restaurants in Portland

Chef Justin has been the executive chef at Castagna since 2011, when he took over from Matt Lightner. Karen Brooks called Justin “the best chef you’ve never heard of” and “He’s the only Portland chef creating Michelin-level food.” (full Portland Monthly article here). Justin was nominated and was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef award in 2013, and was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northwest 2014.

Even under Matt, Justin had already been pushing the envelope by embracing local ingredients with modern avant-garde techniques and visual presentations. An example walkthrough of one of his snacks at Eater demonstrated what looks like just a couple bites and deceptively simple is a precise science merged intricate execution and thoughtful art, showing the influence his time at Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50 is bringing to his current perspective and culinary work.
Chef Justin Woodward at Castagna

As part of the evening, Chef Justin came out for a little bit to talk to the table, and I was struck how he seems the opposite of most chefs I’ve met or seen on TV. Rather than an extroverted, energetic, leader overflowing with drive and passion with a hint hard edge for the stamina and endurance that this kind of industry demands in terms of demeanor for most chefs, Justin seemed quiet, introspective, thoughtful, humble, with a slight awkwardness you would expect from someone who’s gifted… he’s an introvert? I love him more. I think I even said that aloud when I had that realization (I’m introverted and awkward too).

As it turned out, it was too early for the big unveiling of the news… so I’ve been waiting patiently, continually checking because I was wondering what this big news would be, but still no clue!  Chef Justin Woodward was nominated for Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef!

Fabulously though, Watershed and Chef Justin and Castagna still generously hosted the snacks and desserts meal anyway.

To say I was impressed with this meal would be an understatement. In my experience with the plates I had that night, it was natural for me to put him in the same league as the meals I have had at French Laundry, at Trio while chef Grant Achatz was there before he left to found Alinea, and Homaru Canto’s Moto, but without the formality, intensity, and the way those restaurants take great lengths to control and orchestrate a certain kind of dining experience. Here, Castagna and Justin are more guides taking you on an experience that is artistic, thought provoking, and inventive that marries challenging your original notions but also keeps you comfortable.

What Castagna and Justin are doing is not only amongst the best in Portland, but is among the echelon of top restaurants in the world. I don’t say this lightly.

Here’s a look at some of what I was so fortunate to sample. I don’t say that lightly either- I feel truly blessed and lucky to be able to enjoy the kind of food and drink I have had so far in my life. It really is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

1 Beet with tartare black truffle
Castagna Snax: beet with tartare black truffle from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: beet with tartare black truffle from Castagna Restaurant

2 Buckwheat Crisp with avocado and sprouts
Castagna Snax: Buckwheat with avocado and sprouts from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Buckwheat with avocado and sprouts from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Buckwheat with avocado and sprouts from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Buckwheat with avocado and sprouts from Castagna Restaurant

Extra: Bread service with dinner rolls and house-made butter and lardo
Castagna Snax: Bread service with house-made butter and lardo from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Bread service with house-made butter and lardo from Castagna Restaurant

On the left side is where I spread the lardo, the right side the butter.

Castagna Snax: Bread service with house-made butter and lardo from Castagna Restaurant

3 Puff with egg salad and trout roe
Castagna Snax: Puff with egg salad and trout roe from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Puff with egg salad and trout roe from Castagna Restaurant

Sorry, one more photo. This one just is so adorable, and I loved the way it was served on a rock and its luminescent pearl-like sheen and shape like an egg while also being egg salad and trout roe. Hee.

Castagna Snax: Puff with egg salad and trout roe from Castagna Restaurant

4 Onion Terrarium pea vines sunflower sprouts winter cress
Castagna Snax: Onion Terrarium pea vines sunflower sprouts winter cress from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Onion Terrarium pea vines sunflower sprouts winter cress from Castagna Restaurant

If you look carefully at the very bottom, you can see there is a white onion custard at the bottom which is then topped with the green puree before being topped with the peas, vines, and drops of oil.

Castagna Snax: Onion Terrarium pea vines sunflower sprouts winter cress from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Onion Terrarium pea vines sunflower sprouts winter cress from Castagna Restaurant

5 Cranberry leather with sheep cheese and shiso
Castagna Snax: Cranberry leather with sheep cheese and shiso from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Cranberry leather with sheep cheese and shiso from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Cranberry leather with sheep cheese and shiso from Castagna Restaurant

6 Satsuma with espelette
Castagna Snax: Satsuma with espelette from Castagna Restaurant

7 Oyster with chorizo char roe
Castagna Snax: Oyster with chorizo char roe from Castagna Restaurant Castagna Snax: Oyster with chorizo char roe from Castagna Restaurant

8 Smoked salmon wild ginger green apple horseradish lime ice horseradish snow
Castagna Snax: Smoked salmon wild ginger green apple horseradish lime ice horseradish snow from Castagna Restaurant

9 Beef culotte with broccoli and miner’s lettuce
Castagna Snax: Beef culotte with broccoli and miner's lettuce from Castagna Restaurant

I was sad to leave – in fact, I had to leave before dessert portion of this so I missed 2-3 additional courses! I vowed to return for my birthday, doing what I need to re-prioritize my dining budget (it shouldn’t surprise you that after the expenses for housing, food is the #1 category even more than vacations, given how much dining out and cooking I share here on this blog, almost all as part of my personal passion and wallet, and there’s more I don’t share). That’s right, I want to return so much I actually sat down on a Saturday at my computer to juggle and plan and readjust my budget,

I do realize that the restaurant was totally aware that we were a table of food bloggers so maybe we were receiving the best of the best… when I return I will be on my own dime and I’ll let you know how that experience is.

For the rest of the meal, including the Huckleberry chamomile financier and Meyer lemon brown butter ice and pine, and Mignardise, please visit the blogs, Twitter and/or Instagram of some of the other attendees of this incredible experience. I’ll be linking to directly them here (I’ll put the name of the blog post as part of the link) as I see the blog posts go up. In particular. I’m very excited to see the food pornesque photos of Aubrie LeGault Photography, her post is called Castagna Photos & Giveaway and includes a giveaway! Check it out now! Other bloggers in attendance included

Chef Justin Woodward at Castagna and other Portland bloggers and Watershed Communications Chef Justin Woodward at Castagna and other Portland bloggers and Watershed Communications

With Chef Justin, not only can his cuisine bring people together such as at this gathering, and comfort, and nourish, but it can really take you on an unexpected adventurous journey. Every course was serious art for the eyes and tongue, but also had a bit of whimsy and wonder as well.

I have made the mistake of putting Castagna on the backburner for too long simply because Portland seems to focus on more rustic approachable cuisine (even if there might be some modernist techniques behind it) and casual dining over experiential avant-garde fine dining. Price-wise you can usually get 2-3 meals for the price of 1 at Castagna, which is how it kept being passed over by me.

But, after my dinner, I now realize that the exquisite experience at Castagna is more than worth that price, in fact it is a bargain compared to trying to have a similar experience in San Francisco, New York, or Chicago. Castagna is worth it, and you are worth it. Don’t make the mistake I have and wait so long to treat yourself.

Castagna accepts reservations, including via OpenTable.

Disclosure: This meal was complimentary, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

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Comments

  1. WOW…looks amazing Pech! I’m so sad I had to turn down my invite…my week was booked solid :(
    We’ve eaten at Cafe Castagna next door, and that was awesome! I will for sure come here for my next “special” occasion night out, Cheers!

  2. Well-written and an enjoyable read.

    Just one minor factual error. Justin, unfortunately, was not a 2013 finalist for the Rising Star Chef award. The finalists were:
    Bowien (the winner)
    McNaughton
    Posey
    Wetzel
    Bannos

    Glad you enjoyed the food at Castagna.

    • Thanks for reading, and for pointing out the error. He was a semifinalist and not a finalist, and I have corrected this. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. It was amazing, wasn’t it Pech? Nice post.. it assisted me with my post as well (so thanks). I linked you to my post of photos so readers can see additional reviews. I’ll see you at the next event.

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