This little Italian house had a rocky start when it replaced Sellwood’s Assaggio in late 2007—until chef Gabriel Gabreski took over the kitchen in May. Now the restaurant’s warm, soothing dining room and Gabreski’s beautiful but unpretentious dishes make A Cena a dining destination thanks to his devotion to ripe ingredients. On recent visits, we mostly found downright pyrotechnic dishes, exploding with the flavors of fresh meats and seafood, as well as vegetables that tasted like they had been plucked out of some sunshiny bower of ripeness (or, in some cases, A Cena owner Chris Custer’s own garden). A preparation of raw fish created a delectable tension between lemon, capers and long threads of chile, and we had no complaints about the house-cured olives. A dish of housemade tortelloni featured heavy mascarpone and sweet summer squash basking in an acidic, colorful pool of tomato jam. And a tender Sweet Briar Farms pork chop with soft, decadent mascarpone polenta proved an irresistible sweet-and-savory match.
IDEAL MEAL: Feeling flush? Gabreski’s six-course tasting meal is a steal at $70 per person.