You know that feeling where you see people at the next table order something and go, I want it?
Now imagine that feeling lasting for hours, and instead of it just being the table next to you it's the whole damn wonderful restaurant that's filled with luscious food smelling to high heaven of all kinds of delicious.
That's the kind of food Serrato out here in Portland seems to specialize in: bold, sensuous, colorful and spicy. It's an Italian/Mediterranean lover's dream come true and when I step in I can easily convince myself I'm in Italy: warm brown colors running throughout remind me of old terra cotta buildings and cobblestones, candlelight flickering on the walls, off happy patrons' faces; the clinking of wine glasses and quiet laughter. It's all very beautiful, and making me very hungry to boot, so I sit down at a booth with Arthur by my side and wait to be served.
One thing that isn't to be missed at Serrato (asides from the mouthwatering Mediterranean fare) is their impeccable quality of service. Having been to restaurants spanning multiple countries, cities and every budget you can imagine, I can say with complete confidence that the service at Serrato was hands down some of the most courteous and attentive I have ever encountered. From the manager on deck (hello, Tyler!) to our server and everyone in between, we were never left for want; in fact, we were even suggested additional items to supplement our meal to compliment our taste in drinks. It was truly five star service at best, a celebrity service that's both humbling and a thing of wonder, and it definitely left its mark on me.
Let's get down to brass tax now: the food. Starters were a French onion soup and cured salmon served with a fresh slaw. You could just tell by looking at this salmon that it was a quality cut of meat (it was) and the fresh slaw with dill cut through its saltiness nicely, but unfortunately it took a backseat to the soup. The soup...oh my, the soup.
Having a spoonful of that soup takes me back to the Disney film Ratatouille, to the scene in which the critic Anton Ego tries a mouthful of ratatouille only for it to evoke a powerful childhood memory of his mother cooking it for him after a long, harrowing day. It evokes that childhood feeling of a true comfort food made to enjoy warmly under a fuzzy blanket inside on a rainy day: a hearty depth of flavor accomplished through caramelized onions, beef stock, gruyere cheese and what I suspect probably entails a few hidden secrets throughout.
Just as I had almost finished marveling over the onion soup, the surprise stuffed Pequillo peppers arrived and quite nearly actually blew me away. That little bite of perfectly cooked, garlic-y shrimp alongside the slight bitterness of the pepper with the sweetness of quinoa and corn was one of the best bites I've ever eaten in my life. Honestly. It was so good it doesn't even merit further hyperbole. I loved it dearly.
While Arthur and I sipped along to some light, refreshing cocktails (a pleasant and much needed accompaniment with flavors including chile, saffron, tequila, vodka, elderflower...essentially what was a beautifully crafted garden of drinks) we decided on our mains: seared sea scallops (one of my favorite things point blank) and an intriguing wild boar pappardelle with shaved hazelnuts. We sipped along to our drinks merrily, not having to wait very long until...until...
Our two entrees, plus a plate of risotto so tenderly recommended to us by the infallible Tyler. I sat with my mouth agape, marveling at his psychic prowess and ability to seemingly read the minds of his patrons, but only for a moment until the urge took over and I cut into my scallops.
Seared to perfection along with a salad of sugar snap peas and chanterelle mushrooms, a mouthful of that scallop with the risotto seemed to fight the stuffed pequillo pepper starter for best bite of food ever. I sat back and reflected on it, letting the al dente cheesiness of the creamy risotto wash over me. It was fairly heavy on its own, and I wished for just a touch more salt, but paired together with the tender scallop and fresh "sauce vierge" (think salsa verde meets pesto) was just heavy and light enough to warrant a little swoon from me.
Arthur's pasta, meanwhile, was brave, bold like him. I'd never tried wild boar before but after eyeing up his dish for some time (I'm sorry, Arthur) I decided to take the plunge. I was surprised at how astonishingly tender the boar was: braising it seemed to bring out just enough of its earthy nuttiness to cut any heaviness from the pasta.
For the dessert round we ordered a bittersweet chocolate cobbler and vanilla creme brulee. The creme brulee had that perfect sugar snap crust and the taste of fresh vanilla bean, but oh my holy lord was that "cobbler" something else. A molten lava cake esque flurry of melty chocolate and cool ice cream and a whirl of other sensations hit me with every mouthful. It was the kind of quality chocolate you could literally smell: a smell I imagined was the best Dutch cocoa available gently wafting across my face, the table, intoxicating the whole restaurant with its beautiful, heady aroma.
Needless to say, it was a gorgeous, special night and an experience I'm not likely to forget.