|HITTING THE BOTTLE: Ramona White has more room to move at Nourishment.|
Chef Ramona White went to culinary school and spent a couple of decades working in kitchens, from her hometown of New York to New Orleans, before landing in Portland. She turned vendors' produce into pot pies, sandwiches and salads to sell from her stall at the Portland Farmers Market. But it was the food she sold from her cart on Division (actually a full kitchen in an old truck) that eventually brought her inside.
The truck was parked kitty-corner from the commissary for Fuego, operators of food carts selling burritos in several locations around town. The owners walked over for lunch and liked what they ate. They tried to convince White to work for them in the Fuego restaurant they planned to open adjacent to the commissary, but she wasn't interested in doing just Southwestern food. But when the expanded burrito-cart menu failed to click with the neighborhood, White signed on and created Nourishment.
The place has been open for only a couple of months, and White continues to tweak the menu. She had created a grilled ahi taco for the short-lived Fuego restaurant, and she's kept it and added several more tacos ($2-$3.50). While they offer an alternative to traditional taqueria fare with fillings such as grilled shrimp or tofu, the tacos provide an example of Nourishment's inconsistency.
A filling of shredded braised lamb topped with mango and red-pepper salsa is fabulously tasty. It's wrapped in two small corn tortillas, the traditional taqueria approach that works when the tortillas are fried quickly on one side only, then served with dry sides out (you get both clean fingers and a wrapper that holds together). But the tortillas here are apparently heated on a dry grill, and just barely at that, and they arrive tableside tasting like they just came out of the package. The lamb filling deserves better.
A burger ($6.50) made from the same Painted Hills beef used at Portland's upscale eateries is served in a chewy roll and comes with a particularly tasty house-made ketchup spiked with just enough chipotle chili. It's not salsa-hot but adds a shot of heat. I'm no fan of faux meat, but I loved to see the side-by-side menu listing of the BLT with avocado ($5.50) and the same sandwich made with a tofu bacon White creates on site ($5.50).
The menu is mostly small and medium-sized plates. White had originally planned an occasional full-sized dinner offering, but the specials proved so popular they've found a regular home. She uses local Draper chicken, naturally raised and free of antibiotics, for a brie-and-apple-stuffed breast ($13.50), served boned but skin-on with a simple but tasty shallot-and-vermouth pan sauce. A lamb shank (from SuDan Farms, another PFM vendor) braised with white beans, carrots and rosemary ($13) shows that when it finds the beat, the kitchen can rock.
An appetizer of pan-fried oysters, on the menu's high side at $6, includes a half-dozen plump bivalves perfectly cooked so that the cornmeal coating offers a contrasting crunch to the tender shellfish. A dollop of house-made remoulade, the French ancestor of tartar sauce, provides a nice complementing flavor, and you even get a small salad thrown in.
Crispy triangles of fried ravioli ($5) ooze capery goat cheese, a creamy leek-and-feta tart ($4) gets a sharp hit from kalamata olives, and a generously sized small dinner salad ($3.50) hides sweet chunks of golden beets under the mixed greens. But a bowl of salmon chowder ($3) is pasty and flavorless, and it smacks of a convenient use of last night's leftover fish.
The reach of this neighborhood restaurant sometimes exceeds its grasp, but it's such a bargain you don't really mind the occasional shortcoming. And more than a few dishes will leave you amazed that you ate something that tastes so good but costs so little.
2135 SE Division St., 239- 3933. 11 am-3 pm and 5-9 pm Tuesday- Saturday. Coming soon: weekend brunch. Credit cards accepted. $-$$ Inexpensive- moderate.
Picks: burger, lamb shank, pan-fried oysters, fried ravioli.