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After 17 Years, Portland Icon Café Castagna Will Close Mid-May

The SE Hawthorne café calls it quits next month. Get the vaunted burger while you can.

By Karen Brooks April 10, 2018

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Café Castagna's beloved house burger, with onions and zucchini pickles.

Let us hold a moment of silence for the butter lettuce salad: nearly an entire head of it, glistening with tarragon, vinaigrette royale, and a thousand snips of chives—one of the most dignified salads we’ve ever met. May we never forget the baked penne with gruyere—Portland’s first mac 'n' cheese with a European passport. Or, in its early life, the perfect roast chicken, a pat of tarragon butter lovingly tucked underneath its skin. All things must change; all things must pass. That includes Café Castagna, once a hallmark of all that was good and true about Portland, Oregon. After a 17-year-run at 1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd, the Euro bistro pioneer will call it quits in roughly six weeks.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” says Monique Siu, who also owns the cafe’s critically acclaimed mothership Castagna next door. “As much as I love the café, it’s not the way people eat anymore.” According to Siu, shortly after the café closes, the space will reopen with a new look, a new name, and a new concept. 

Until then, diners can bid farewell to the cafe’s signature dishes. The menu, slightly modernized since its inception, still features a fine Caesar, which approximates the famed, whole-leaf version from Zefiro (the landmark Northwest Portland restaurant that Siu once co-owned). And the old-style house burger, once the stuff of Portland legend, still calls: beautifully proportioned, crowned with sharp onions and zucchini pickles (another Zefiro recipe in Siu’s treasure chest). Plans are in the works to bring back other favorites no longer on the menu, including seared scallops with fennel salad and fideo squid.

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Café Castagna's perfect butter lettuce salad.

Café Castagna opened 2001 as a casual spin-off to the ambitious fine dining restaurant Castagna. It turned out to be, in its own right, a destination and the prototype for the new neighborhood restaurant, with interesting wines, seasonal know-how, and homey classics done right—steak frites to crispy-thin pizza, long before pizza was a thing.

Ironically, for years, Café Castagna roared while Castagna played wallflower, despite food from some of the city’s best chefs: Euro-minimalist Kevin Gibson (Davenport), charcuterie champ Elias Cairo (Olympic Provisions), and modernist wunderkind Matt Lightner (who went on to snag two Michelin stars in New York). In recent years, Castagna has surged; making major noise under progressive chef Justin Woodward (currently a James Beard Northwest finalist).

Meanwhile, the café fell off that radar, as competition grew and its menu felt less distinguished as personal pizza spots, burger madness, wine bars, and bistro-esque cooking took root across the city. A few years ago, a menu shake-up introduced Middle Eastern flavors. But the effort fizzled, as regulars bemoaned the loss of cafe favorites; in short order, the old ways were reinstated.

Who knows what comes next. Will the new place truly be a wholesale fresh concept? Will Siu really break with her known recipes? Only one thing is for certain: throughout time and changes, Siu has never wavered in her quest for quality and integrity. Going forward, we’re still betting on those ingredients.

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