Castagna, Portland

September 5, 2017

Castagna has a great national reputation, dating from the days when Matt Lightner was its creative chef. Opinionated About Dining 2017 rates it the 24th best restaurant in the U.S. Eater now writes:

“Chef Justin Woodward is on fire. The inventive chef picks up where culinary wunderkind Matt Lightner left off, deftly continuing Castagna‘s reputation as the pioneer of the local “au natural” culinary movement: Greens and flowers are foraged by the chef himself, then presented in a molecular style that reveals an authentic expression of the chef/artist at work.”

Patricia and Karl joined Linda and me at Castagna on July 27, 2017, in celebration of my 77th birthday.

The décor is somewhat stark and the acoustics are resonant. We were seated at the other end of the dining room, but the round table of eight women you can see behind the standing waitress was raucous.

We started with a surprise bottle of Grognet ‘Carpe Diem’ Etoges 1er Cru Côtes des Blancs Champagne that had been ordered by Blair in honor of my birthday. There are two tasting menus offered. We took the smaller one, which was still plenty. We ordered a bottle of 2011 Trisaetum Pinot Noir.


The menu started with snacks. Our genial waiter described them to us, but I could not hear much in the din and I was celebrating my birthday and so not taking notes. So the snack titles and descriptions below are sparser than I would like for a restaurant of this reputation (and may be inaccurate.) The menu titles were quite short and minimally descriptive. And some of the photos turned out inexplicably dark. Sorry about all that.

summer soup

This cool broth was made from garden vegetables.

pickled beet crisps over goat cheese

These were overly vinegary as beets often are.

Beet under nasturtium leaves.

beef tartare

radish slices with mayonnaise and tarragon

Crisp from the garden.

Charred green beans, sea beans


peas on top of pea purée and a custard.

This was good with strong, fresh pea flavor.

olive oil bread with lardo and butter

This was treated as a course in itself.

The first menu course after the snacks was
albacore, tomato, ginger

Good quality albacore sashimi topped with very thin fresh ginger slices on tomato water.

trout, potato, lovage

The piece of cherry wood smoked trout was alongside a vinegared potato purée topped with wood sorrel leaves.

chanterelles, hops 

The chanterelles were unusually rich due to a rich braising liquid. I do not think I have ever had a hops leaf before.

beef, society garlic

The excellent chunk of charred filet of beef was dressed with an oxtail glaze that emphasized its richness. There were several herbal garnishes for contrast and a pink agapanthus flower on top. 

strawberry, spruce, sansho

Spruce tip ice cream was inside a soft meringue and was topped with strawberry slices.

dark fruit, almond

almond cakes, strawberry powder

I received a little chocolate birthday cake.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this meal as much as I should have because I was grumpy after a long drive into town, problems with our hotel room and the inconsiderate, loud table. It was a good example of well-executed, trendy, locavore cuisine, but I fear that my standards for this are too high after noma, atera and The Willows Inn just a week before. Castagna seems derivative of them, not justifying its hype in many reviews. But I would certainly go back in a better mood. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s