My favorite type of cuisine is Italian. My wife, with the notable exception of spaghetti, is not much of a fan. She would prefer Pho or Thai. So, after I was given a big promotion at work I texted my wife and, nice guy that I am, I said “Let’s go out to dinner and celebrate. You pick the place.”
My wife, nice gal that she is, said “Italian! And I know the place.” The place turned out to be Grassa in Downtown Portland, Oregon.
Grassa is one of two restaurants (the other being the sandwich shop Lardo) owned by world-renown Chef Rick Gencarelli. Grassa is a counter service restaurant which serves delicious and authentic Italian food, complete with homemade noodles, succulent spices and a relaxing urban atmosphere. This is not the confectionary served up by Italian chains such as The Old Spaghetti Factory and the sauce-drenched salt of the Olive Garden. This is real Italian.
Upon entering Grassa, located at 1205 SW Washington Street in Downtown Portland, Oregon, I was initially struck by the appearance and the ambiance. It is not a traditional, stuffy Italian restaurant with soft classical music and men and women dressed in their Sunday best. This was an industrial warehouse with steel tables, concrete floors and a chalk board menu. Instead of Dean Martin and Pavarotti, Queens of the Stone Age played comfortably through the high tech sound system.
The menu changes daily. On that particular day, I ordered the merguez with rigatoni. My wife, vegetarian that she is, ordered the eggplant parmesan. We each ordered a glass of wine. Then we sat down in a cozy booth, sipped our wine and waited for the food… which we were salivating for as the aromas wafted in from the kitchen. And, even though the food is made from scratch and from locally sourced, and often organic, ingredients, our wait didn’t take long and, within minutes of entering Grassa, we were digging in and enjoying some of the best Italian food we had ever eaten.
The ambiance was casual and laid back. The food was served in bowls, not on ceramic plates, and the wine was poured into simple drinking glasses, which we learned is an authentic part of Italian culture. The casual elegance of Grassa was fitting as looked out the windows of Downtown Portland and bore witness to bikers, SMART cars, joggers and local PSU students strolling by, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.
Yes, Grassa has it all. Great food, amazing prices, a pleasing ambiance, and a killer location. Grassa is one of the gems of Portland’s vast foodie scene and is a must visit location for tourists and residents alike.