Category Archives: Artisanal

Tastebud

As it’s been a while, I’ll try to keep this review brief. The strength of my memory, however, is strong, on account of one of the best ‘zas in Portland. Yes, it is pricier than some for their speciality pies (though no worse than Hammy’s), but for a tasty, luscious, fresher-than-fresh pizza, one must look no further. Except maybe Apizza Scholls, the review for which is also long overdue.

First, a bit of history:

Tastebud started as a farm. An organic farm, actually, and in 2000 began making wood-fired baked goods for the Portland Farmer’s Market. These baked goods were good. Very good. And last summer (2008), chef/owner Mark Doxtader opened the restaurant on SE Milwaukee, across from the Aladdin. Tipped off by Jeremy, the owner of Cellar Door Coffee Roasters, JMR, EDP, and I took a ride down to the dining room in August to get a pie to go. I’ve been going back ever since.

photo-39The first thing you notice about Tastebud is that it really feels like a dining room. Not in a restaurant sense, but in a this-is-your-aunt’s-house kind of way. At first, I felt the space strange, almost artificial seeming, but now I’m fond of it; mirrors, vases, mismatched plates, and all. There’s also the smell – the wonderful aroma of a wood-fired brick oven doing its thing back in the kitchen. Tastebud offers other hearth-roasted appetizers and goodies (including bagel brunches on the weekends) and some delicious salads – on a good night, their caesar with bagel-croutons may be the best in town. But that’s on a good night, and quality, I must admit, has seemed to vary.

But on to the ‘za.

The most amazing thing about Tastebud’s pizza is the crust. Crisp, firm, dusted with flour on the outside; fluffy, airy, soft, and moist on the inside. The flavor is there too, with just the right amount of salt to bring out the flavors of their dough. The sauce is also quite good, and I’m always struck by a faint fennel taste in the bright, clean tasting tomato sauce. The mozzarella, it has to be said, isn’t the best. It’s good, sometimes very good, but occasionally it will taste a little too briny and once they ran out and used different cheeses. When they use fresh mozzarella it is amazing (creamy, goey, tender), but sometimes they don’t and it is a little-bit lacking. But not very much. You can also get their specialty pizzas (but be careful, because sometimes they don’t tell you if the pizza has sauce or just olive oil) or you can customize the basic cheese, starting at a reasonable $14, with arugula, various meats, olives, and other seasonal items for a few extra bucks. I can eat a whole one, but I think less gregarious folks can (should) split one between two, or even three people if you get an appetizer.

Service is always very kind, though sometimes a bit slow. In the earlier days, I was stuck waiting for water, waiting to order, or waiting for my pie, but in recent months, this hasn’t been a problem.

Minor flaws exist, but I still can’t think of many pies and rather be eating right now. Now. Maybe I’ll go back tonight.

IZ

(oh: they usually have a pretty good beer selection: Caldera, Hair of the Dog, and some others. Wine, I’ve been told, is also good.)

Tastebud
3220 SE Milwaukie (map)
(503) 234 0330
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Nostrana

Sometimes, when I’m eating, I just don’t feel the need to be in a fancified warehouse. It’s not that I get vertigo looking up at those high, beamed ceilings, nor do I think about all the bugs and critters that may be inhabiting such lofty wood; these things don’t bother me. Perhaps its just that the emptiness of the space above my head seems to demand filling. Maybe one must look up with soaring ideas of how wonderful the food may be, eyes rolling to the tops of their sockets, tracing the beams, if one is so lucky, to put words to the sublime occurrence dancing across one’s taste-buds. Well, most-likely not.
Sitting in a corner booth this weekend at Nostrana, the space above my head felt decidedly vacant. This was to be my second trip to the well-known eatery in a few years and, I feel bad to say, I could never understand how it was ranked Restaurant of the Year in 2006. Don’t worry, I’ve had other things besides the pizza to make sure that my feelings were not in error and, across the board, I’ve felt let down. Their menu seems so interesting, ingredients so fresh; even on the plate the food looks amazing. Once it enters the mouth, on the other hand, not much lives up to Nostrana’s impressive pedigree. I don’t mean to say the food is bad, which it is not per se, its just lacking, as if each dish needed one thing, one spice, one technique to bring all the flavors together, but that something just wasn’t there.

As this is a Pizza Review, I’ll leave the other foodstuffs to the side and focus my efforts on a “traditionally” “uncut” Margherita pie. House mozzarella, tomato, basil, with added arugula, and proscuitto. Fancy. I’m sorry that the picture I have doesn’t do justice to the wonderful look of this pie, but you’ll have to believe me that my mouth was watering.

With the commencement of the cutting, however, things started to go downhill. In the middle, there seemed to be a pool of the most liquified elements of the sauce and melted cheese, which caused unnecessary difficulty in cutting a slice. Upon reaching the crust with the knife, I had a ball of dough and toppings, which I had to fold over into a sort of calzone in order even to attempt a bite. The sauce was good, very simple; the crust, inconsistent; the cheese, a bit over cooked; the arugula, a bit greasy; the proscuitto, very nice. On their own, each component had flavor, texture, and was most certainly fresh, but together, I found them bland. It was as if all the flavors canceled each other out. Very unfortunate.
Overall, Nostrana greeted me with high expectations and, when all was said and done, I left unsatisfied and with a hole in my wallet.

(Other notes: Service was aloof. They have Caldera IPA in a can.)

IZ

Nostrana
1401 SE Morrison (map)
(503) 234-2427
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Dove Vivi

Across the street from the garish colors and outdoor tables of Pambiché, the strip mall housing Dove Vivi is a calm, unassuming location. A big, black heart on a sign-pole stands in the parking lot. A few people drink beer outside. I couldn’t really tell if the design was supposed to be upscale, hip, or neighborhood-y, but the pans of deep-dish convinced an entrance.

The first thing you see when you walk through Dove Vivi’s glass doors is refrigerated display case full of half ‘zas. These must be the source of the individual slices ($3.75) and are, as their website stresses, not pre-cooked. A nice hostess informed us of a short wait and we were seated in approximately five minutes. Not too bad.

In terms of décor, I like it. Simple, grey walls, wooden tables and chairs, that exposed warehouse-type ceiling – a little noisy, a little cramped, but not distractingly so. Water was waiting for us at the table in little glasses and a large mason jar.

Quatro Fromaggio

Quite hungry, my friend and I ordered one full-sized Quatro Fromaggio ($18), described as mozzarella, fontina, provolone, parmesan, and tomato sauce, and one half-sized Pepperoni ($10.50), a combination of mozzarella, fontina, pepperoni from the Molinari Salame Co. in San Francsico, mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes. Both of them on Dove Vivi’s signature corn-meal deep-dish crust (the only choice). With a smile, the waitress told us that we were “ambitious.” Yes we were.

And then we waited. It’s not that the wait was overlong, as deep-dish does take a while to cook, but that our waitress never came back to check on us, inform us of the usualness or unusualness of the wait, ask us again if we wanted something to drink, or anything else. We just sat there and, when I was just about to say that this was getting bad, the pizzas arrived. Generously sized, good-looking, not-quite-piping hot ‘zas. I tucked in, pulling out a hefty slice of Quatro Fromaggio.

The ‘za was delicious. Definitely one of the cheesiest slices I’ve had in a long-time. Dove Vivi’s cornmeal crust is quite good – it doesn’t become overbearing, but you can certainly taste a difference. Though, I will say that I would have liked just a bit more corn flavor, however crunchy-on-the-outside light-and-fluffy-in-the-middle it was. Smattered across the top of the pie were chunks of tomato sauce – very garlic-heavy, a bit over-salted, but tasty nonetheless. As I mentioned above, there was a whole lot of cheese here. It would have been better to have a little more distinction between the four different cheeses, as they all blended together in texture and flavor, but there is very little to complain about. Overall, very satisfying.

I’ll leave the description of the Pepperoni for another time, but suffice to say that I thought it less inspired than the Quatro Fromaggio.

Dove Vivi is certainly recommended, but I’d like to see their staff become a bit more attentive.

IZ

Dove Vivi Pizza
2727 NE Glisan St (map)
(503) 239-4444
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Ken’s Artisan Pizza

margherita

The first thing you see when you walk into Ken’s Artisan Pizza on Burnside is a large, neat stack of firewood that fits in so well with the restaurant decor that it actually took me a while to realize that it was the same wood that was being used to keep the oven fired. The combination of warm, well-placed hanging lights and the fiery pizza oven makes the spacious Ken’s a cozy, elegant pizza place.

Just like the ‘za I miss so much from home, the pizza at Ken’s is crispy-crusted and charred just enough to give you a taste of the oven it was fired in. I tried a total of four of their pizzas: fennel sausage with onion, spicy sopresatta, winter squash with a hard goat cheese, and, of course, the standard margherita.

Winter squash and goat cheese

If you’re looking to grab a cheap slice of ‘za, then KAP isn’t the place you want. Rather than slices Ken’s does individual 12” pies cut into quarters, which, at 12.99 each and made with such high quality ingredients, I’d say are priced extremely fairly. According to the menu each pizza serves 1-2 people, which in my experience translates to: serves 2 unless you’re really pretty hungry and aren’t drinking a couple pints of the microbrews (Amnesia red, Terminal Gravity IPA) they have on tap.

This is our first review of artisanal pizza. We plan on making our way over to Apizza Scholl’s and Nostrana soon to give us a better sense of this slice of the pizza industry here in Portland, but I will say that though the crust is charred, it’s not slightly scorched all throughout the underside, which some may deem inauthentic. It’s a crispy crust but not crackery. Our waitress got the job done efficiently but was a little cold at first. I look forward to going back after visits to the two places mentioned above (plus anywhere else you, our gracious readers, recommend).

EDP

Ken’s Artisan Pizza
304 SE 28th (map)
(503) 517-9951
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