Racion's Spanish-Inflected Balancing Act

Chef Anthony Cafiero's West End open kitchen combines highbrow modernism with a relaxed vibe.

By Kelly Clarke July 1, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Game bird with English peas, chevre, roasted Japanese turnip, and curry

Ración has crafted its own recipe for the friendliest molecular gastronomy around: a hide-nothing kitchen, a chatty, food-loving staff, and a great chorizo-infused margarita topped with clouds of sea salt foam. 

From addictive salt cod chicharróne dressed with malt vinegar powder to house-made marshmallows infused with ginger, these “modern tapas” from 31-year-old Anthony Cafiero pack plenty of molecular punch. But the former Tabla chef uses highbrow edibles as playful flavor and textural flourishes for lusty, Spanish-inflected food—a balancing act that makes Ración’s high-low eating accessible and fun. 

While the food is sleek, the vibe is relaxed. Shelves backing the open kitchen are crammed with powders, beakers, and a five-volume copy of Modernist Cuisine. Nearby, an immersion circulator swirls with baggies of pork tenderloin. A wraparound 15-seat chef’s counter hugs the workspace—a wooden table topped with induction burners and a planter full of microgreens—ensuring an eyeful of behind-the-scenes action.

You can order small dishes à la carte ($11), but the real deal is the five-course, $50 tasting menu (tack on $30 for wine pairings). Offerings careen from a sous-vide egg sided by crunchy chickpea gnocchi to almond gazpacho packing briny bits of razor clam, Dungeness crab, and those fanciful marshmallow icebergs. The four-person staff (chef included) encourages diners to split a tasting menu, which means you can supplement as you like with raciónes like deep-fried sweetbreads (the “best Chicken McNuggets, ever,” boasts Cafiero) and octopus a la plancha as you go.

Despite its sleek décor, Ración is not a typical white-tablecloth experience. On any given night, you might get to eavesdrop on the chefs gabbing about Rambo movies and how to “cook” a negroni cocktail before tasting dishes from their laboratory. They’ll talk your ear off about how tapioca starch explodes in a deep fryer, and they’ll even rattle off recipes. Or, they’ll let you sit quietly and eat if you prefer to keep your meal a mystery. But what’s the fun in that? 

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