What happens when you take a chef who trained under Mario Batali, lived in Italy, and is just as fond of classic meat and potatoes with red wine as he is haute cuisine? You get heaven on a plate from Pazzo chef John Eisenhart.
On a cool, rainy night in Portland, Oregon, recently (oh right, that's redundant) I sat down to dinner at the warm and inviting ristorante inside the Vintage Plaza hotel. Chef John had led a demonstration for my friends and me before dinner down in the wine cellar, showing us how to make perfect, feather-light gnocchi. Ok, his were perfect. Mine will never be, but that's ok – I'll leave perfection to the guy Batali trained to make gnocchi. And as is this remarkably humble and low-key chef's nature, he sent out a dish of short ribs and gnocchi to nibble on before our actual meal arrived. Except the abundant portion more resembled an entree at my mother-in-law's house than an amuse bouche. Breaking a cardinal rule of professional eating, I ate every bite, even knowing multiple courses lay ahead of me. I plead couldn't help it.
The tender beef melted right into those pillowy little dumplings, married simply with red wine, tomato and parsley. And after a series of “just one more bites” the dish soon sported nothing more than a couple traces of sauce. But I had no guilt — the beef, in case you were wondering — was local.
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