Day one: Lardo, Ava Gene's and Bushwacker
A whirlwind weekend in town:
Arrived late Saturday afternoon with no lunch and an early dinner planned for Ava Gene’s, the new restaurant from the guys at Stumptown and Woodsman which opened in December to pretty hot reviews.
Walking in the direction of Pearl I came across Lardo at 12th and Washington which I had never heard of (now knowing they are a food wagon that has morphed into two restaurant spaces). At first I thought it looked a bit corporate and was going to give it a pass until I checked the menu -mainly pork based- and saw some of the sandwiches....sold! I was starving but had only an hour before dinner at Ava Gene's... so looking for something that wasn’t too heavy I ordered one of the only non-pork items on the menu: The Rapini Sandwich with roasted pepper agrodolce and aged provolone with caper mayo - it was fantastic! A perfectly cooked stack of rapini with all the other goodies on a great quality bun. That along with a Goose Island IPA did the trick.
Taxied over to 3377 SE Division looking to grab a bar seat at Ava Genes around 5:45. Was offered the choice of a bar seat or a kitchen counter seat. Opted for the kitchen counter and was seated directly in front of the wood fired hearth oven/stove, very similar to the one at Ox. Beware! It is freaking hot in the three seats directly across so decide if the great view is worth melting for. As the restaurant was already almost full I hung in and all went well. The food was uniformly very good and deceptively simple but beautifully executed. The menu has almost too many categories to tempt before you hit the primi, secondi and contorni part, there’s Pane (crostini) with various toppings, then Giardini – 6 choices and then Piatti -5 choices before you hit what would be the regular 3 menu categories in most places. All great fun of course and definitely calls for a few people to take advantage.
I never got to a main course, instead opting for the Warm Chicken Livers with raisins and marsala on big grilled crostini. They were a perfect combination of agro/dolce with the slightly bitter livers. Next was the Tuscan Cavalry Salad – Raw Tuscan Black Kale with Sarvecchio cheese and Filone in a light dressing. Again, very, very good and completely tender as they bruise the kale while combining the dressing. Perhaps better shared though as the saltiness of the cheese kicks in at about the halfway point. Last... I chose the Sagna Riccia noodles with Lamb ragu and Chicories. A solid final choice although the Pork Osso Bucco and the huge grilled sea scallops really called out to me as well and looked excellent being plated up.
Although it wasn't on the dessert list I asked for an Affogato (house made vanilla gelato with fresh hot espresso -Stumptown of course- poured over the top). That and a glass of Rabarbo (Italian rhubarb bitters) was a great ending. They have a nice but concise selection of wines by the glass. Menu changes daily.
To close out the evening some lovely folks who I met sitting in the blast zone offered to drive me to Bushwacker when I expressed an interest in checking out a full-on cider bar. Although they lived just blocks away they had never been and we all really enjoyed the place. Looks dark and empty from the outside but was full. We did a couple of tasting flights with the hands-down star being the "Spire Dark and Dry" from Washington. No food to mention being served other than snacks like nuts and pretzels from what I saw. What's cool is that it was a completely young crowd in there enjoying the many varieties of cider (except for us of course;)
Next up: bakeries, more Lardo and Base Camp brewing followed by Pope House.