We might consider taking a cue from the Italians on the subject of celebrity chefdom. “Name one famous Italian chef,” says Bar Mingo chef Jerry Huisinga. When I can’t (Mario Batali doesn’t count; he’s from Seattle), Huisinga reminds me that great cuisine should reflect quality ingredients and classic techniques rather than the names and egos of the people who prepare it. This humble ethos drove Portland’s legendary Italian eatery Genoa, where Huisinga ran the kitchen in relative anonymity for 22 years. In 2008 he took the reins as head chef of Caffe Mingo’s annex, Bar Mingo, and he is shaping this casually modern eatery as he did Genoa—through the skillful mastery of simple food.
Most of Bar Mingo’s menu is made up of affordable smaller plates that are perfect for sharing ($8 each, or 3 for $21), such as the brightly flavored mint- and pecorino-spiked lamb meatballs in a simple tomato sauce, or calamari sautéed (not fried) with green onion, garlic, and lemon. But there are formidable entrées as well, like the lasagna ($16), which alternates layers of beef and pork ragù with soft blankets of house-made pasta smothered in béchamel and nutty parmesan; and the “Straw and Hay” spinach and egg tagliatelle ($15), served in cream with house-cured ham, chanterelle mushrooms, and parmesan. Pair any selection with an offering from an Italian-heavy assortment of wines, and be grateful to the chef who concocted this flavorful cuisine. Whatever his name is.