Coming back in Portland to discover the best Italian restaurants,I stop at “Trattoria Gallo Nero” where chatting the owner Davide, eating a dish of pici and cantucci with vin santo, he tells me how he came to open an authentic Tuscan restaurant on the other side of the world.
The Pearl District of Portland; In a few hundred meters is possible meet a plenty variety of the world. However, forget the hectic life of a big city; here we are on the more unknown to mass-tourism West Coast part. We are in Oregon.
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My day begins in a café for a good espresso. It’s Sunday mid-morning, but a lot of people is strolling around. The sun-light is soft and pink, like just after dawn. I have an appointment for lunch with Davide at his restaurant, the “Trattoria Gallo Nero”, which opened two years ago along with two other Italian partners. Before going to the restaurant, I take a walk to exploring the neighborhood. The streets offer many interesting places; Breweries, restaurants, bakeries and bars, each place has something special to offer. Here in Portland, if you’re hungry, you do not have to settle for some burgers and chips (long as you do not want to have!) . The markets are full of products, many Italians; Freshly baked focaccia, imported cheeses and cured meats. At noon I reach the “Gallo Nero”. The restaurant is almost invisible from the road, if it were not for the sign with the unmistakable emblem of Tuscany. David welcome me with a cup of coffee – the one I tasted before this morning was decent, but this is something else! – I sit at the bar to listening his story.
“I left Italy seven years ago for family matters.”do not you miss Italy? “I never came back, even for vacation, what do you think?” Davide laughs, and tells me about how his life has been full of sudden and radical challenges “I tried everything before realizing that the food service is my job, my dream: I worked in roadside restaurants, I made artisan ice cream, I worked as computer technician… in the early 90’s I opened a radio in Florence, radio Planet.”
Davide tells me how he had been continued to change jobs and cities. Native of Castiglione dei Pepoli, a small village on the Emilian Apennines. “Yes, I lived in many Italian cities; Prato, Florence, Modena and Padoa. “One day I’ve had the idea of the summer pool” Davide takes over the management of the poolside restaurant of Castiglione dei Pepoli with his uncle “I worked into the pool’s restaurant and my uncle made the pizzas; during the day my mother and her friends came to make the dough for the fresh pasta. My family has always been into the food business – my grandfather had a bakery, my aunt was a homemade pasta expertise and we had a family restaurant – although I have always warned by my relatives about how hard is working when the others have fun!“. Despite the warnings from his family, however, Davide has no regret “Actually, when I see people coming out satisfied from my restaurant I feel happy to be part of the fun!”
While we are chatting the first customers entering into the restaurant, including one of the two associates of Davide “Andrea, nice to meet you” he says with a Florentine accent smoothed because of many years living in Portland. “If I want to say something? Ask to Davide everything!” he says laughing and sits at a table with some friends. “Andrea is a lawyer and Italian vice consul; he takes care of the administrative and legal side of this place” Tell me Davide. The third partner is Giacomo, an engineer, who sometimes goes by and vents his passion for cooking.
“Come to meet my sous chef” say to me Davide. We enter into the kitchen of the Gallo Nero; The space is not much, but it is well equipped. Rick, is making pici alla chitarra (traditional homemade squared noodles). Tattoos and baseball cap moving as an old Italian mama! “The first few months I permitted Rick just to look me cooking. Then I tested what he learned and now, when the place is crowded and I I’m busy in the hall, kitchen is into his hands! “. I sit at a table and I take look at the menu: chicken liver crostini, ribollita, risotto with porcini mushrooms, tortelloni di patate … No simple tastes for some American people. “Sure, someone complains, and wants the same things that they believe Italian; Cesar salad, spaghetti with meatballs … but now people are traveling more, are informed about the traditions; livers and risotto are known and appreciated by many. Same thing for wines. Of course, we serve only Italian wines, the people knows and appreciates them, there are 50 international distributors of wine only in the Portland area“. Many Italian products are available into the market, I saw them before this morning with my own eyes. Others Davide has them sent from Seattle or New York, then there are some interesting dishes prepared with the freshest local ingredients “At the right season, we prepare Dungerness crab dishes typical of Oregon; the halibut is at home here and I cook it all’acqua pazza “.
I order the ribollita, pici and the crab salad. The products are fresh and the dishes are well served. Cannellini beans, Lacinato kale and traditional cantucci di Prato cookies to finish, flavors that lead me directly into Tuscany. Meanwhile Davide’s daugther, Olympia reach us “Olimpia now has 15 years, is the reason that binds me to this city, and perhaps one day will be the only reason why I could leave.”