Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bourbon and Barolo at D.O.C., or When Drinking Patterns Change

It was a dinner celebrating an anniversary and since some of our best dinners had been in Italy we wanted Italian and intimate.

We got both with D.O.C., an intimate (okay, let's just say small.  Really small.  Tiny.  Itsy-bitsy.  We're talking kiosk here) Italian-themed place in NE Portland.

I would imagine in summertime D.O.C. would be a lovely place with its tables spreading across the sidewalk outside on a sleepy little side street.  Fall is another proposition.  D.O.C. is, quite simply, a restaurant in search of space.  It takes 'cozy' to an extreme.

When you walk in, you have to be careful not to slam the door against the two chefs hard at work.  The kitchen is to either side of the door, consisting of two cooking/prep areas separated by a non-slip rug in center.  Once you're safely past the chefs, though, it's a lovely little space in minimal white, snowy white tables and a gorgeous chandelier.  Just too small.

Our table for two ended up being next to the combination linen closet/computer room/cd room and adjacent to the bathroom door.  Wasn't a slam on us as guests though:  all the tables, of necessity, were that way; our's just happened to be closest.

Certainly can't fault the staff either.  They were attentive without hovering (and, trust me, it would be easy to hover in this place), warm and helpful, and knew their menu and wine list inside and out.

I began with a "Milano", one of I think a total of two cocktails offered and essentially a variation on a Manhattan with bourbon, Carpano Antico vermouth, and Fernet Branca.  Pretty tasty; but then I don't know of any Manhattan variation that isn't when it is made with good ingredients and a measured hand.  And this one was. My wife opted for Prosecco, which she pronounced was simply perfect.

For our dinner wine I chose a lovely Marziano Abbona La Pieve Barolo 2005 from the short but well managed list.  It was truly fine throughout the entire meal.  Not a blockbuster by any stretch; this was a subtle, elegant, earthy, mushroomy (good for this meal for sure) and rose petal Barolo, the kind that seduces you with gentle words rather than trying to overpower you.  And we surrendered to it easily.

There's a magic in good Piemontese Barolo, and this one had it; it was capable of providing an excellent companion for the food and reviving fond memories of the region at the same time.  Which was exactly what we had wanted.

The menu gave us two ways to go: either a a la carte or the chef's menu, a selection of five courses chosen by the chef.  Since we prefer making our own selections, especially in a place new to us, we elected for a la carte; the chef's selection was a good deal at $50 per though.

One salad was narrated so well and enthusiastically we decided to sample it.  It was a memorable salad, a combination of perfectly toasted hazelnuts, chunked and sauteed delicata squash, fine sliced apples and a belper knolle cheese from Switzerland.

We then shared a pasta course of gnocchi, lobster mushrooms and ladysmith fondue that was quite a surprise: a 'dry' style gnocchi, heavily sauteed until it was crispy brown, with loads of mushrooms. a light helping of the fondue, and tangy julienned green onions.  Delicious.

For the main course my wife chose a curious veggie pasta dish of lasagna with kale, chanterelle mushrooms, and squash.  The ingredients were perhaps a bit too close to the previous gnocchi course, I think, with the mushroom/greens/squash combination, and the lasagna was startling:  it had been toasted heavily, and was more like a flatbread or toasted crackers than lasagna.  Didn't seem like pasta at all.  The taste was good, mind you; it was simply a disconcerting preparation.  And sadly, it didn't work that well for us.

The sturgeon dish I ordered was a hearty helping of three huge chunks of meaty, tender sturgeon on a bed of radishes and brussel sprouts.  Once again, the saute pans were getting a workout tonight, as both radishes and brussel sprouts were halved and then sauteed heavily cut side down until they were caramelized and crusty brown.  Outside of the heavy-handed saute work, the dish was lovely.

We had not intended to have coffee, but at a table nearby---but that would be any table in D.O.C.---the waitperson took down an sleek double-globed vacuum coffee maker, which had to be designed by an Italian, and went through a ritual more elaborate and mannered than a Japanese tea ceremony.  So we said "What the heck" and went for it.  More elaborate than it was worth, frankly; a basic French Press does the job better and the ceremony is simpler and the results better.  Points for style though.

The final tally on D.O.C.?  I'd be willing to go back...but I'll wait for Summer and one of those outside tables. The place puts out good food with a limited kitchen---more like a trattoria in Italy than a ristorante---and simply needs that extra space.  On the other hand, if you're looking for intimate, that they have.  Plenty of intimate.

Which brings us to the other topic: drinking patterns.  What with the move to Portland and leaving some dear friends behind---who all happened to be devoted to good wine and food and the sharing thereof---we are dining more quietly these days.  Just the two of us, more often than not.  Or with relatives who don't really go for all'fancy stuff.'

Which means we are drinking fewer wines.  Not necessarily less, mind you; just fewer.  Add to that my rekindled fascination with spirits and cocktails (and my pecuniary encouragement of sampling them since I'm now a writer paid to do so), and the pattern at D.O.C. is pretty much the way we drink when we're out these days.

Our drinking en famille hasn't changed much though, so I do still sample around and stay current.  And thank goodness I'm still getting around to all the trade events---sometimes so many that I'm busy every day---so I keep my palate fully primed.

But I sorely miss the days so recent and frequent of dining with small groups of people who enjoy the fine social art of wining and dining, and are able to appreciate and savor superb foods and wines...and most of all, to do so in a spirit of glowing hospitality.

I cherish dining with my wife alone, and I know she does as well.  But I also know that she and I love the meals with friends even more, and we miss those.  I'm sure things will change as we cultivate new we have already begun to do...but we both miss the days when we would have a table groaning with food and wine and surrounded by smiling people and the chatter of good friends.  Those are the best of times.

1 comment:

  1. make a trip down to Berkeley, man; we'll make something happen!