In the hundred or so evenings that I walked past Genoa on my way to some other place, I never felt compelled to go inside. Why were the diners cloistered behind thick curtains while the tiny kitchen was windowed and on display? It's pretentious facade seemed to warn: "Expensive Cookery inside, middle lower class neighbors need not enter". With the recent rise of great Portland restaurants it's now more important than ever to appeal to your neighborhood, and maybe that was part of Genoa's decline from institution to closed. But now Genoa is not only open again, but there's a new bar/cafe - Accanto - adjoined and it's sporting long hours (lunch!), big windows, and an inviting atmosphere that feels downright neighborly.
The interior is warmly lit with a spacious L-shaped bar and a long row of tables stretching back to a cozy corner of couches. Business was steady considering it was their 2nd night open and the staff was friendly, attentive, and spot on all night. Although one aspect of the service was a bit puzzling - the large bottle of commercial water presented to our table and left there without it being entirely clear if it was complementary or not (it was). I know this is the Italian way (including the $2 offer of a 'frizzante' upgrade), but with a nationwide turn away from bottled water and municipal being perfectly serviceable it seemed a little odd.Am I really writing about water? Moving on...Accanto is opening with a short list of safe cocktails featuring local spirits and the lighter side of Italian amari.
Refreshingly tart and lightly herbal with an underlying spiciness from the rye and a final anise hit from the Peychauds. This would be especially nice during the few warm months and paired perfectly with the meal.
Oregon Pear Sidecar - Clear Creek Pear Brandy, Triple Sec, Sour Pear Juice ($10)
This was a single loud note of fresh ripe pear, but undeniably delicious and eerily similar to those 'Juicy Pear' Jelly Bellies. My companion noted a hint of tea, but we couldn't track it down.
I'd eat beets every day if I wasn't too lazy to make them, so the antipasti was automatic.
With high quality olives, tart earthy beets, candied walnuts, and crostini that was crispy without requiring a reliable dental plan, the antipasti was a great snack for $6. Patrons and staff alike couldn't shut up about how great the arancini was, so we really had no choice but to go there next.
This went miles beyond my expectations - the pleasures of aromatic rice and impossibly tender squid in a crispy ball were jacked way up by the glutamate amino orgy of squid ink and sweetly concentrated tomato - it was perfect and if it survives the initial menu I'll be back for it all the time.
That arancini is a tough act to follow, but my entree held it's own. A couple years ago I enjoyed the best meal of my life in a tiny restaurant in Sienna, and it's pinnacle was a wild boar pasta. Ever since that night I'm like a junkie trying to get that first high again, so I was unable to resist the admittedly more lunch oriented wild boar ragu panini.
Another almost perfectly executed dish - the bread was crisp outside and pillow soft inside, boar sweet and hearty without being too saucy, melted provolone sharp as hell with that great nutty tartness, and pickled onions bringing just the right balance of acidity - damn satisfying on a cold December night. The chips and pickled cauliflower were fine, but honestly my taste buds were spoiled by the time I got around to them.
My dining companion had the lasagne, which was good and hearty, but didn't really thrill in comparison to the other dishes of the evening. Then again, it's lasagne, and didn't advertise itself as anything more exciting than that.
We finished off the evening with a couple more cocktails:
Sgroppino - Vodka, Sorbetto of the Day, Prosecco ($9)pictured at top
As a matter of both taste and custom I prefer a drink instead of dessert, but the Sgroppino did a good job of integrating both. The sorbetto's of the day included grapefruit and some other fruit, but I stopped paying attention after they mentioned presecco sorbetto. With perfect portion of sorbetto, the drink stayed nice and dry while being a lot of fun.
A Traversiamo - Lovejoy Vodka, J Witty Chamomile Liquor, Lemon Juice, Chamomile Simple Syrup, Thyme Sprig ($10)
Wow, that's a lot of chamomile, but the thyme extends the herbal note into an aromatic finish. Maybe a little sweet for some, but a good idea and great digestivo.
This certainly isn't a review by any means, that wouldn't be fair on day 2, but I really came away impressed with both the ideas and their execution. While Accanto may be playing it a little safe with much of the menu as they get started, there's adventure if you want it. If they took things too much farther they might risk cannibalizing their patron next door. In fact, one of Accanto's strongest victories may be welcoming the neighborhood into Genoa. It's certainly enough to tempt me beyond those curtains.