A little of this, a little of that all in Northwest Crossing.I had been meaning to pay a visit to Portello Winecafe since it reopened in January after a plumbing disaster forced a brief closure, but I don't get out to Northwest Crossing much, and it kind of just fell off my radar. But last weekend, since I was heading out there anyway to watch a friend compete in the NWX Criterium, a bike race being held at the second annual Hullabaloo festival (a.k.a., "The Whitest Block Party on Earth"), I figured it was the perfect opportunity. Granted, it is completely unfair to stage a review during a restaurant's busiest day of the year, but a couple of the tables on the patio have a perfect view of the racecourse, and my compulsive kill-two-birds-with-one-stone instinct made it impossible to resist.
In the end, besides an understandable amount of backup in the kitchen, there was nothing to forgive. Our server was attentive and cheerful, considering the circumstances, and kept us amply plied with wine until our food arrived. We succeeded in getting that plumb table outside, a lovely spot for a glass on a warm summer evening. But had weather not been permitting, the interior is equally attractive. The space is airy with high ceilings adorned with exposed heating ducts, walls made of brick taken from a 100-year-old Portland building and bar tables constructed with wood from Willamette Valley cherry barrels. Racks of wine and revolving art exhibits add to the Euro-industrial feel.
Along with a nice selection of about a dozen beers, there are nearly 30 domestic and international wines available by the glass. They regularly run from $7 to $12, but Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Monday until 7 p.m. glasses are reduced to $5, making it one of the best deals around. The list includes a range of mostly familiar white and red varietals and a couple of blends, as well as some sparkling wines and ports.
I enjoyed all the wines I sampled, as one would expect at a wine bar, but the food was clearly given equal attention. Divided into categories This & That (soup, antipasto and such), Bruschetta, Salads and Panini, the menu of light fare features flavors from Italy, France and the Mediterranean with many local touches. Everything I tried was bright, flavorful and prepared with the freshest produce, breads, meats and cheeses.
My choice among the meat and cheese boards included a nice, tangy thin-sliced dry salami and melt-in-your-mouth fresh mozzarella topped with arugula and cherry tomatoes, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and served with crostini ($9). The Bruschetta ($11.50) is also a great option for sharing. You choose four from a list of interesting toppings such as smoked salmon, cucumber and marinated onions; artichoke tapenade with feta; or more dessert-like flavors including blue cheese, walnut and honey or Brie with apples.
Panini ($7.50-$9) are served on either focaccia or ciabatta and come with Portello slaw, a lovely light version dotted with capers. The Mediterranean was a tasty combination of roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, roma tomatoes, onions, feta and kalamata olive tapenade as was the Italian Salami and Turkey with provolone, onions, arugula and balsamic. My favorite, however, was the Grown-up Grilled Cheese, melted gruyere and fontina cheese scented with sage and white truffle oil.
For my palate, too many of the salads ($7-$9) feature that classic Northwest fruit-and-nut pairing or sweet-and-savory dressings. Take the Junie for example: Crisp romaine, dates, pine nuts, golden raisins, cranberries and red onions sprinkled with goat cheese in an orange poppy seed vinaigrette. But that is my problem, not Portello's. People seem to go for that sort of thing in these parts, and I have no doubt that Portello does it well.
All warm apple-bacon vinaigrettes and surrounding Hullabaloo aside, Portello's wine, food and atmosphere will likely get me back to Northwest Crossing much more often.