Nel Centro

Paul Hyman, shares his Corn and Tarragon Bisque secrets with us.

By Mike Thelin October 9, 2009 Published in the November 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

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Mussels in vermouth, garlic, and parsley at Nel Centro.

Image: Thomas Cobb

ADJACENT to downtown’s sleek new Hotel Modera, Nel Centro (the latest venture from veteran restaurateur David Machado of Lauro and Vindalho) draws culinary inspiration from the stretch of coastline between Nice and Genoa, where the local gastronomy reflects a happy marriage of land and sea.

Chef de cuisine R. Paul Hyman creates classic, straightforward dishes. Starter plates of plump, garlicky mussels finished with vermouth and parsley, or salt cod croquettes with red pepper rouille, live seamlessly alongside land-inspired dishes like bucatini (a long, hollow noodle) topped with lamb meatballs and aged ricotta, or pansotti—Genoese ravioli shaped like half moons, filled with house-made ricotta, and smothered in a rich walnut sauce. Meat dishes also stand out, like the deeply flavorful beef daube Provençal, which sports chunks of beef braised in red wine and pancetta, salty Gaeta olives, and fried panisse—a savory cake made from garbanzo flour. You could order an extra appetizer for variety, but save room for dessert, such as former Pearl Bakery ace Lee Posey’s light chocolate soufflé served with vanilla-bean crème Anglaise.

Nel Centro’s daily breakfast and weekend brunch are sure bets: try the grilled polenta topped with a poached egg, pork loin, and sage hollandaise. During the lunch hour, pizza and sandwiches are added to a pared-down version of the dinner menu. And on warmer nights, the restaurant’s courtyard—illuminated by outdoor fire pits set against a sumptuously planted “living wall”—offers the classiest backdrop for al fresco drinking in the city.

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