Only two weeks after coming back home from vacation in Italy, it was a gutsy move on my part to go visit The Corner Room, the third restaurant installment of Chef Harding Lee Smith (the chef owner of The Grill Room and The Front Room) that focused on rustic Italian foods. My dinner date (my lovely former co-worker, Cindy) was craving Italian food and it had only been a little over a week since opening night, so I said, "Why not?" and made reservations for 5:45PM.
We arrived on time to bright and airy dining room, with a bar at the front-left side of the room and the main seating area stretching all the way to the back where you could see the pastry chef do his thing.
Silly of me to be taking picture of bread, but hey, I'm never one to miss an opportunity to practice food photography. A nice, fluffy focaccia with a seemingly fruity olive oil, possibly imported? Our waiter, whose name we forgot to catch (agh, I hate doing that to people!), was a young man shaved bald, who had a very nice demeanor and played nice when we teased him here and there. He made some very definitive suggestions when we had asked for some kind of Chardonnay (Cindy) and Pinot Grigio/Riesling (me) types for us, and he did quite well with his choices. Even I, the person who drinks maybe a glass of anything alcoholic maybe once every one or two months, liked the crispness and subtle pear sweetness that the waiter had described to me.
Cindy and I shared the "Caprese" salad (Olive oil panna cotta), which was somewhat misleading. The quotations made it seem like they were doing something fancy with the panna cotta in place of the typical buffalo mozzarella you'd see in a caprese. But alas, the caprese was a standard caprese, except it was laid over a thin, chilled layer of the panna cotta. The caprese was amazing though, with the right drizzle amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the freshly cut tomatoes and finely chiffonaded basil. A scrape of the panna cotta melted in your mouth with a subtle sweet warmth that just made the imported mozzarella di bufala creamier.
My veal sambuca (I think that was the name? I'll correct it later if need be) came with sauteed mushrooms (not likely foraged though) and an additional side of sauteed spinach that I ordered. The saltimbocca was traditionally done with a layer of prosciutto and the huge sage leaves you see below. I liked the preparation of it, but I'm afraid the prosciutto pushed it over my salt limit and completely overpowered the sauce, to the point that I was reaching for the spinach and mushrooms to level out the salt intake.
The seared scallops that Cindy got looked amazing. The little sliver that I tasted also had a fantastic melt-in-your-mouth (theme for the night?) experience. Coupled with the size of the scallops (no, that's not the zoom in action, they were quite large!), the scallops certainly were the party hit for Cindy's mouth. I usually don't care for scallops, but that's mostly because of the rubberiness they tend to take on from overcooking.
She also ordered a Caesar salad filled with some very well-dressed fresh romaine leaves.
Feeling just full enough, we decided to be adventurous and try out their desserts as well. Our waiter listed off the desserts of the night (is it a safe assumption to say that the desserts are in-house?), but admitted that his favorite was the tiramisu. People who know me well know that tiramisu is the anti-dessert for me because of the coffee and rum (coffee and alcohol are two things that I don't really care for), but Cindy was excited and I was already in the "What the hey?" mood anyway. You can already see the ladyfingers poking out from beneath the homemade whipped cream. It wasn't drowning in rum, but it was a moist cake with some fantastic cream to swirl it in. Not too shabby for a dessert I typically hate.
Overall, the dining experience was lovely with only the minor salt snafu with the veal. The waiter and hostess were incredibly friendly and professional and as the night went on with more diners filing into the room, the waiter never forgot us. Chef Smith did a great job with the old documentary institute space, using the airy, spacious feeling to his advantage. At an average of $45 (including tip) per person for a split appetizer, secondi entrees with a la carte sides, a split dessert, and a glass of their second least expensive wine, I'm actually impressed with the variety of food that you can get at decent quantities. Comparing it to the experience I had at Grace just recently, the value certainly tops Grace. We agreed though that portion size was enough for two tiny women such as ourselves, but that folks (especially men) with larger appetites would find it hard to see the value of good quality Italian food. Oh, and yes, the authenticity was mostly on par with the real deal in Italy. Maybe it was a good idea to go to The Corner Room right after coming back from Italy after all! The Corner Room certainly stands to be an exciting competitor to watch in the Italian food business for Portland. It will be interesting to see the June '09 restaurants grow and blossom (and hopefully survive) and hold their own in the Portland's bustling food industry.
|comments: Leave a comment|