Ración is set to open March 7, 2013 with an open kitchen tapas and tasting menu concept designed to order by Chef Anthony Cafiero. He brings his modernist techniques to an all-electric kitchen surrounded by a purple heart wood 18-seat counter. The plates are beautiful, delicious and a masterful interplay of tastes and textures. Fun.
My trio of diners attended their first preview dinner on February 27. We've previously enjoyed Cafiero's cuisine at Tabla Bistro and at one of his pop-up dinners in September. Cafiero took the feedback from diners to hone his menu to "greatest hits." While there are modernist touches to each dish - foams, spherules, compressed, infused - flavors take the center stage.
We started the evening in the tapas bar area, which has a comfy U-shaped couch and a couple of tables. The drink and tapas menu was on a chalkboard in true Portland style. Our first course was included in the preview dinner, which was their upcoming 5-course tasting menu. The appetizers included the Serrano ham, almond cracker and sherry gel bite, the spoon with beet tartar, orange yolk and chives, and a boquerone stuffed olive.
The wine pairings are done by David Rounds, but after a first drink of a craft margarita, we went with the non-alcoholic pairings. This was a great choice. We had four amazing non-alcoholic cocktails, which included refills. They were each a course unto themselves and a great break from the usual. From a hibiscus tea, a lemon cream and root beer, each combined sour, bitter, and a little sweet. They are adult craft drinks without the alcohol (which you won't miss). Even if you aren't a teetotaler, take this option and maybe add in a glass of wine along the way.
As we took our seats at the chefs table that surrounds the open kitchen, we knew we were in for an intimate treat. You are just a few feet away from Cafiero and his sous chef Roscoe Roberson as they assemble each plate. Tweezers and an acetylene torch are involved. Both enjoy talking about the food and preparation, so bring your questions.
The first course was cocidito soup with ham hock broth, crispy serrano ham, broccolini and pickled peanuts. The broth smacked you with hammy richness, the peanuts were a delightful play on beans, and you just wanted to present your bowl with "Please, sir, may I have some more!"
The second course was halibut cheeks, black sesame, green apple, sour cream and shiso, artfully arranged on a slate plate. Amazing, delicious, wonderful.
Course three was a salad with cauliflower panna cotta, organic herbs plucked from the pots on the kitchen counter, yuzu, torchon of foie gras, smoked trout roe and compressed cucumber. The elements were all tasty and interesting, but I thought the flavors clashed a bit. As with all of the dishes, there was salty (the cauliflower), umami, sweet, bitter and acid, with an interplay of textures. No one will ever accuse these chefs of presenting a one-note dish.
Now for the steak: rib with foamed potato, horseradish, smoked apple cider and brussels sprouts. The steak portion was about six ounces, perfectly cooked to melt in your mouth. My companions thought it needed just a touch of course salt. I love salt and I thought that as long as you got a bit of the horseradish and smoked cider with a bite, it was perfect.
I'm used to the dessert being the most forgettable course of the tasting menu. Not so here. An extruded S-curve of chocolate ganache snaked its way around a column of lemon curd/goat cheese with stewed kumquat and slices of kumquat and saffron. The modernist ganache was simply perfect in chocolate flavor and texture. We cooed over the two types of kumquat, distinct in flavor and each a delight. And, yes, the cheese/lemon was delicious. Everything played happily together.
Our evening at Ración left us hungry to return again, and again. If you are a big portion/steak and potatoes person, it's not for you. If you are a foodie, it is a must-go.
Ración will be open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, with seatings hourly. Our 5-course dinner took under two hours, with the courses and drinks coming steadily. Reservations would be a good idea for such a small venue, and you can reserve online with a credit card (and large cancellation penalty in under 24 hours). The lounge is open for drop-ins from 5 pm, where you can enjoy the tapas and craft cocktails and wine.