Yes, the Northwest 21st Avenue Italian bistro’s Swiss Miss roof does betray its beginnings as a Tastee-Freez, but its interiors are appealingly warm, earthy, dark and date-friendly. When Bastas opened in 1992 it was Portland’s favored spot for upscale Italian, but it hasn’t always kept pace with Portland’s burgeoning restaurant scene, and the menu has been somewhat uneven; among the entrees, for example, the excellent ciuppin (the heartier, less-spicy Italian progenitor of San Francisco’s cioppino) abuts a bland, musty tuttomare al cartoccio—spaghetti and shellfish baked in a pastry-covered dish. The “Pasta Pollo” is still well-balanced and the clam pastas consistent, but lately the real reason to come here has been for the wide-ranging, all-evening, generously portioned happy-hour food menu, ideal for sharing—like an Italian-version tapas menu.
Order this: Ciuppin if it’s winter, carpaccio, spaghetti alle vongole.
Best deal: The $5 pizza bianca, with capers and anchovy, could feed two.
I’ll pass: The aforementioned tuttomare, the oversour caper-sauced flank steak.