Sunday, May 17, 2009

Market Day and Castagna with Elias Cairo

Yesterday's market was gorgeous. The weather floated around 80 degrees, lovely old-time music was provided by local group Boy and Bean, and the first strawberries were out! What's more, the Sol Pops guys and The Ruby Jewel gals (local, organic popsicles and fresh-made ice cream sandwiches) were set up in the sun, making kids and big kids really happy.

I had the pleasure of emcee-ing the Chef in the Market demonstration, with Elias Cairo of Castagna and Cafe Castagna (rhymes with lasagna). We made Asparagus and Morel tarts, with duck eggs from Deck Family Farms, crème fraîche from Jacob's Creamery, and smoked Gouda from Willamette Valley Cheese, Co. We had a good crowd - about forty people watching the Chef Du Jour make delicious pastry and the bumbling emcee ask silly questions (and be a tiny bit starstruck).

I had a lot of fun feeling a bit more on the in-crowd of chefs and farmers, and look forward to returning to the stage after a brief trip to California. The demonstrations start at 10 am, and feature a new chef each week. Come check us out, if for nothing than to meet me and get some awesome samples at the end.

In an exciting turn of events, I was able to eat dinner at Café Castagna, one of Eli's restaurants on 17th and Hawthorne. My roommate Dragonfruit is graduating from college this weekend, and her parents are in town, which means one thing: Dinners we can't usually afford! Ok, well it means a lot more than that, too, but nice food ranks up there. I didn't bring my camera, because I'm not hardcore enough to pull out a giant lens and snap photos of my appetizer in front of the chef I tried to impress that morning, and the parents I was trying to impress sitting across from me. Maybe some day I'll be able to get over that embarrassment, but for now I'll just have to describe the food. I love Castagna because their menu changes almost daily, depending on the availability of ingredients from their farmers. This keeps things über-Seasonal, super fresh, and exciting for the chef and the diners.

Here's what we had:
mâche and beet salad
marinated olives
monterey bay calamari with fideos (small bits of pasta) and aioli
fried cardoons (a member of the artichoke family)

roast chicken with herb butter served with chard-potato gratin and roast asparagus
lamb-almond meatballs in a chickpea stew
galacian white bean stew with rapini and house-made chorizo
halibut with asparagus and fingerlings

bread pudding with caramel sauce
chocolate pavé, a chocolate soufflé cake
chocolate pot de créme

And, of course, good beer all around.
My favorite of the appetizers was hands-down the calamari. Perfectly grilled in garlic, served with spicy arugula... Oh, this was a winner. I'd pass on the olives and cardoons. The former were nothing special, and the cardoons were far too salty, a bit like brined deep-fried celery. The beets were delicious, but if you have to pick one, go for the calamari. Looks a bit daunting (these aren't the deep-fired calamari rings you'd find in a bar, but pieces of exactly what they are - squid) but the taste and texture was meaty and sumptuous.

Bites of all the mains were passed around, and Eli's homemade chorizo certainly lives up to its reputation. I'm not a fan of rapini, but it set off the stew nicely with its astringent flavor. The meatballs were interested, really comforting, but the stew was oddly floral - I couldn't figure out the exact flavor, but it overpowered the intrigue of a lamb-almond meatball. The halibut was simple and pretty - the star of this was their tarter sauce, creamy and perfect. My chicken was good but not great, I'm a pretty tough judge of a good roast chicken, and it had an interesting smoky flavor that I couldn't fall in love with. The gratin was a wedge of mashed potatoes and greens, lacking in texture and arrived a bit cold, but had a fantastic flavor.

The desserts were great. Get the bread pudding. Don't consider anything else. Just get it. It's a brioche-based, custardy pudding with a crispy, caramelized top. Amazing. The chef came out and shook my hand, thanking me for the morning's adventure, which made me grin non-stop for the rest of the night.

All in all, a fantastic end to a great market day. Here are some more pictures from the market. Until next time, eat well!


  1. What? No comments? I love your photos and news! What was the recipe of the Sloppy Faux sandwiches?
    XXOO. Country Rhodes