It survived the post 9-11 food depression, the DIY chef invasion of the mid-oughts, and Portland’s small plates revolution. It’s been a neighborhood bistro darling, a role model of French-Italian comforts, and a lost soul searching for its place in changing food times. Last year’s gamble on Mid-East cooking didn’t pan out, despite solid cooking. Now, at age 15, Southeast Hawthorne’s Castagna Café is making another move: turning the menu over to one of the city’s premier chefs, Justin Woodward, whose progressive menus turn heads at the mothership Castagna next door. The idea, says owner Monique Siu, is to morph the café into a slightly more modern bistro-wine bar blending the traditional and the inventive with French, Italian and Spanish inflections.
The new menu went into effect this week. So far, it’s a highly eclectic mix of old Castagna (the popular burger, baked penne, and butter lettuce salad live another day), the best of Castagna’s Mid-East experiment (fried panissa, blackened beets in tahini) and most intriguing, Woodward’s new modern-meets-classic plates.
In one dish, Woodward puts his sous vide whammy on a chicken leg, then perches it over stewed chard and caramelized chicken jus. In another, kabocha squash empanadas meet a salad of cilantro, parsley, padron peppers, and spiced honey, with smoked chevre resting below. But my eye is firmly on the new house-cured salmon tartine, mounted with crème fraiche over toasted rye.
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd