Ava Gene’s, the second restaurant from Duane Sorenson of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, anchors upper SE Division Street as the most dynamic restaurant row in Portland. The menu is an ode to classic Italian fare, but the space evokes Portland(ia) with warm wood, eclectic art, tattooed servers and a nostalgic rock-and-roll playlist (think Janis Joplin and Jethro Tull). Slide onto a plush leather stool at the chef’s counter and start with a trio from the giardini section of the menu, where chef Joshua McFadden (formerly of Roxanne’s in the Bay Area and Franny’s in Brooklyn) crafts transcendent vegetable combinations. Sweet meets salty in a composition of celery slivers, dates, almonds and Parmigiano Reggiano; a playful mix of melons, squid, jalapeño and cilantro finishes with a pop. All are good excuses to delve into Carly Laws’s wine list, a selection of 130 wines highlighting lesser-known Italian gems. You might start with a glass of sparkling malvasia secco from La Collina, or a rosé from Terradora di Paola in Campania. The pastas, ranging from a seasonal corn agnolotti with chanterelles to the simple linguine with mussels, provide an excuse to delve into the bottle list. Laws has compiled just as many special occasion bottles (1989 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, for instance) as she has savvy affordable options (Tamí Frappato for $28). Because you saved room for dessert, order the affogato made with Stumptown coffee, a sweet bite where Oregon meets Italy.
3377 SE Division St., Portland, Oregon
This story appears in the print issue of December 2013.
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