When you're scarfing down a plate of Evoe's sautéed Padrón peppers, look out—the next one you pop in your mouth might bite back. The new Hawthorne spot's chef, Kevin Gibson, says every once in a while one of the typically mild Padrón ($6 a plate), blistered in olive oil and sprinkled with fleur de sel, will be tears-in-your-eyes spicy. Looks can be deceiving.
The same can be said of Evoe, the shoebox-sized space owned by—and connected to—Pastaworks. Gibson, who left Castagna last year although he's still a co-owner, showcases the store's top ingredients in the manner of a casual European cafe with sandwiches, salads, cheese/meat plates and snacks. All the offerings, written on enormous chalkboards behind the bar, are in constant flux. But each dish is a celebration of ingredients—after all, the word "evoe" is actually an invocation to Bacchus, the god of wine, agriculture and theater.
Gibson, soft-spoken and meticulous, prepares most of Evoe's dishes right in front of you, on a long wooden slab lined with stools. If you're sitting at the counter, looking like you're considering licking the last of your cauliflower soup ($5) right out of the bowl, he might reach over, wordlessly, and place a few slices of baguette on the slab in front of you, so you can sop up the remaining drops.
And that cauliflower soup is, of course, incredible—pureed with cream and topped with a piece of wild mushroom. Gibson cooks the precious 'shroom on a small, plug-in, flat-top griddle on the counter behind him, pushing down on mushroom folds with his fingers until they crackle and spit. There's also a plug-in range, but most of the action at Evoe takes place on the chopping block, amid an impressive array of housemade pickles (chanterelle, wild plum, goat horn pepper), produce (fresh porcinis, ripe figs), fresh herbs and oils.
At Evoe, be a good kid and share. A snack, meat ($13) or cheese plate ($11), salad, and main plate make a great meal for two. The fresh, local and delicious Oregon spot prawns ($10), served with a nutty romesco sauce and side of lightly dressed frisée, are so good you'll be compelled to order a second plate. Gibson removes the head and antennae before grilling, but keeps the shell intact, sometimes along with bright orange eggs, which are even sweeter and juicier than the prawn.
Another finger food Gibson nails are deviled eggs ($4.50). One diner summed up the cured-meat-crowned beauties with: "These aren't your average Midwest church-picnic deviled eggs." On another visit the yolks were creamed with horseradish, topped with fine bread crumbs and lightly browned under Gibson's nimble fingertips on the flat-top. Don't worry, he washes his hands a lot.
Speaking of hands—Gibson's are most fun to watch as he's shaving paper-thin, fat-ribboned pieces of jamón (dry-cured Spanish ham) from a whole pig's leg—hoof and all—vise-locked to the countertop. He uses the ham for the delicious house bocadillo de jamón ($8) served simply with butter or olive oil on a whole grain mini-baguette.
House bargain: Buy a bottle of wine next door from PastaWorks' fantastic selection and pay a $5 corking fee at Evoe. This is a steal compared to the usual Portland restaurant markup. There are also glass pours, draft or bottled beer, still and sparkling water and seltzer.
Dessert and coffee or espresso aren't available for now (beyond a complimentary fig or two), but feel free to order both next door at PastaWorks and enjoy them at Evoe. In fact, Gibson may look on approvingly, and somewhat longingly, at your double cappuccino if you do.