Dining, Pacific Northwest, Portland, Restaurants

PDX Hits and Misses: Muscadine, Nonna, and Din Din

October 12, 2015

Portland has become one of our favorite food cities and we’ve been fortunate to visit frequently over the last few years. There are so many terrific restaurants–we have to force ourselves to branch out from our favorites and give other places a try. That was our goal on our most recent excursion to the Rose City.

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Try Muscadine for delicious Southern cooking.

Muscadine

Southern food is enormously popular in Portland, especially when it is as well prepared as it is at Muscadine muscadine.  We stopped by for lunch a scant 30 minutes before closing, yet were warmly welcomed.  It was a beautiful, sunny day so we opted for one of the picnic benches outside the casual restaurant.

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Choose one of Muscadine’s outdoor tables on a sunny day but get there early for the fried chicken!

Sadly, the fried chicken, which we had been anticipating hungrily, was sold out.  We had been warned that that could happen to late arrivals. Never the less, there were ample appealing choices on the menu and the four of us settled on several portions of catfish, the salmon croquettes and the BBQ cup.

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Muscadine’s tasty BBQ Cup…

The BBQ cup turned out to be a nice big biscuit filled with tender pulled pork in a tasty BBQ sauce topped with cheese and baked in the oven.  So delicious, I soon forgot about the chicken.

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…delicious, tender pulled pork in a fluffy biscuit.

The catfish had a crunchy, crispy crust and was moist and tender on the inside. It was served with a “come back” sauce much like a traditional home made tartar sauce with a kick—a perfect foil for the fish.  The salmon croquettes were flavorful and included two ample croquettes

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Crispy catfish, fried okra and crunchy cornbread.

The mains came with three side dishes and there were fourteen to choose from. The sides could also be ordered separately for $4 each. We sampled several–perfect corn bread; fried potatoes; tasty, crispy fried okra (I’m not usually a fan of okra but this was really good); a sweet and sour coleslaw—different but flavorful; extra crispy bacon; braised local squash; grits; and biscuits with excellent preserves and butter. The preserves were great with the cornbread, too, and our server was happy to bring more.

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Salmon croquettes, grits, squash and fried okra.

Service was attentive and gracious and though we probably overstayed our welcome, were never rushed– in fact our waitress kept our coffee cups filled right up to the time when we finally pushed ourselves away from the table. We’ll be back for sure.

 

Nonna

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DOC’s casual sister restaurant Nonna.

We were excited to try this casual offering from the popular and well-regarded DOC next door. Nonna  nonnapdx has a casual vibe with a large bar area and simple, wooden tables. There is another equally casual dining room just beyond the bar.

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Nonna has a large, welcoming bar.

Nonna also has a cozy and charming patio in the back, hung with clothes lines and a few items of clothing that were certainly not going to dry on the rainy Friday evening we dined there.  It would be a wonderful place to gather with friends and enjoy some good Italian cooking and a beverage on a pleasant Portland evening.

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A small, charming patio would be a great gathering spot in nice weather.

Like many Portland restaurants, Nonna’s menu is locally focused and changes often.  We ordered four appetizers to share between the four of us, as suggested by our server. We chose the octopus, polenta, golden beets, and spaghetti with chilies and breadcrumbs. Everything was nicely prepared and presented.

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Charred octopus reminded us of Sicily.

The octopus was tender and delicious with a nice char and served with a lemony aioli, olives, peppers and potatoes–just like the octopus we had enjoyed many times in Sicily. This was my favorite of the starters we chose.

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Polenta with pesto.

The fried polenta with pesto was tasty, though not terribly exciting.  The roasted beets on the other hand were sublime – a beautiful, big bowl of golden beets with walnuts, chevre, mache, with tasty tarragon vinaigrette.

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Golden beets received a generous topping of chevre and hazelnuts.

The pasta dish was small but perfect for sharing.  The chilies had a nice zip and the breadcrumbs added welcome texture.  We did feel that three appetizers would have been sufficient since we had each ordered an entree as well.

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Piquant peppers and toasted breadcrumbs made this spaghetti dish special.

We felt dinner was off to a great start and were all happily enjoying our shared plates when halfway through the appetizers, our entrees arrived.  We were surprised, especially since the room is so small that anyone who had even glanced at our table could see we were nowhere near ready for our next course.   We cannot account for the lack of communication with the kitchen on this score.

With no place on our small table to put them, the server pulled up a smaller table and rather unceremoniously plopped the four main plates down– we commented that we were not ready for the entrees and were in no rush.  Our server replied we could eat the mains when we were ready and walked away.  We quickly dispatched the appetizers so our main courses wouldn’t be ice cold when we began.

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Perfectly prepared halibut was a hit.

There were three main courses or “secondi” to pick from and we selected all of them. Two of us chose the halibut, which was served with wonderful caramelized fennel wedges and grapefruit segments– a great compliment to the fish in both flavor and texture.   The halibut was crispy on the top and perfectly tender and moist inside– cooked just right.

Another in our party had the pork chop with the Romesco sauce served with nice bitter broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes — a large plate with a nicely done chop. We shared a bottle of 2014 Domaine de la Fouquettee —a nice Rosé that worked well with everyone’s meal. Two in our party enjoyed local craft beers as well.

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The pork chop was perfect.

Our other dining companion chose the enormous burger served with crispy fries and topped with cherry tomatoes, provolone, aioli, and mixed greens– a step up from the usual accompaniments.  He pronounced it the perfect burger.

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Non-traditional toppings made the burger a standout.

I have to think our dining experience would have been greatly enhanced had the food service been better timed. Several online reviews alluded to service issues. If they can work out this problem, we’d happily return for the delicious and deftly prepared food. In the meantime, we’re adding DOC DOCpdx to our list for next time.

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DOC looks inviting.

 

Din Din

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Din Din’s “Supper Party” is held one weekend each month.

We had wanted to try Din Din dindinportland for several years– ever since we had gone in search of brunch one weekend only to find the place closed.  Note to self–always call first.  We were delighted to secure a reservation for our party of four for their Saturday night Din Din “Super Party”. One weekend each month the restaurant hosts small groups– about 12 to 14 guests at a time, for a fixed price menu, wines included. Dinner begins at 7:30 p.m.

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A lovely Rosé got things off to a great start.

We were greeted in the bar area by our hostess, Courtney, who provided us all with a nice glass of Schloss Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé and a passed appetizer of roasted Persian Star garlic, Silver Queen corn, and Fiore Sardo on pain d’épices. Ours was a festive and friendly group and several of the guests had dined at Din Din before.  They raved about their experiences and we were all eagerly anticipating a splendid evening ahead.

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Our group was lively and friendly.

Everyone introduced him or herself and we chatted amiably until Courtney directed us to the communal table, set with vintage silver and china, in the center of the casual but charming room.

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A beautiful buttercup squash soup started our meal.

Our first course was a delicious buttercup squash soup garnished with a Costata Romanesco zucchini salad. The soup was accompanied by a glass of Chateau d’ Orschwaihr Pinot Gris ’13. We were surprised that the soup was served at room temperature but still enjoyed it very much.

The wine and conversation flowed nicely but the meal sadly did not.  There was quite a long gap between the soup and the next course and it became clear that Courtney had to prepare, plate and serve the food singlehandedly. Our fellow guests who had dined at Din Din on other occasions were very surprised that she had no assistance and commented that there were usually two or three people working together on the meal.

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Salmon with a Chartreuse sauce was next.

Next up was a lovely 
salmon with a Chartreuse romaine sauce and baby carrots, served with a glass of Domaine de Juchepie Anjou sec “Les Monts” ’11. The salmon dish was also served at room temperature, bordering on cold, and it was pretty evident it should not have been. I can imagine that had it been the proper temperature, it would have been delicious. Nonetheless, the conversation continued to be lively, more wine was poured and a helpful guest made sure everyone’s water glasses stayed full.

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The meat course would have been delicious had it been hot.

After another lengthy lull, the meat course was served– to half the guests. Finally, we all had our plates– flank steak with a sauce of Melrose pepper Tulsi basil cream, cucumbers and brussel sprouts with lime. I believe this would have been a wonderful dish had it been heated, but the entire entree was cold. The vegetables were still tasty though cold but the meat and sauce suffered badly.  This was accompanied by a very good glass of
 Domaine de la Bonne Tonne “Les Charmes” Morgon ’13. At this point our fellow guests were assuring us that ours was not the typical experience at Din Din and counseling us to give it another try.

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Conversation and wine flowed freely but the meal’s pacing was problematic.

Next up was a crisp salad of simply dressed greens.  While we ate our salads, I noticed Courtney in the kitchen quickly slicing fruit.  Finally, dessert was served– thinly sliced Seckel pear with Cointreau caramel
 and gruyère cheese. Personally, I was disappointed.  The sparkling rose—a Foss Marai “RooS” brut rosé NV served with the dessert compensated somewhat– it was delicious and an excellent finish to an uneven and puzzling dining experience.

By the time we had dessert and the final glass of wine it was nearly midnight and our fellow diners began requesting their checks.  The party was clearly over and it seemed no one wanted to be the last to leave.

I followed up with Courtney several days after our meal and learned that her colleague, who usually assists in the kitchen, had been taken seriously ill and so she was left to create the Din Din experience alone. With this in mind we’ll give it another try sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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