1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-7373, castagnarestaurant.com.
[PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD] Castagna is Portland's most carefully curated dining experience—held in a minimal-eclectic, neutral-toned room that feels a bit like a museum devoted to comfort. Chef Justin Woodward had difficult shoes to fill after the departure of avant-chef Matthew Lightner, en route to his twinned Michelin stars in New York. But he's wasted no time making the place his own. Hell, in some ways it's better: Unlike Lightner's more ethereal creations, Woodward's science-heavy, playful, deeply aestheticized dishes nonetheless never forget that they're food and not conceptual art. One grandly departs from, then rediscovers, the familiar. A recent modified caprese lost its mozzarella in favor of a frozen nasturtium cream that seemed a futuristic improvement on milky cheese. Rib-eye and short rib are transformed to tender, almost painfully intimate meat bon bons, while a shale-sheeted dessert of frozen hazelnut, crispy milk and chocolate takes on—once together in the mouth—the essential character of a macaron. Drinks unfold in similar luxury—whether as richly complementary wine (likely the best pairings in the city) or a sterling "reconstruction" of the mint julep that contributes its own individual complexity. You'll leave deeply sated but not overfull, and the night will return to you newly full of possibility.
Ideal Meal: Your anniversary, perhaps. Meals are $65 for four courses, or $110 for the full tasting menu, which makes it a special occasion for most. It will indeed feel special.
Best deal: When you realize the sweet-smoky 16-year tawny port is just one of four generous glasses, you'll also realize that $35 is a bargain on those wine pairings.
Pro Tip: You don't need to be a pro. You'll be taken care of. Might I take this moment instead to recommend you pay special attention to the hearty bread and herbed pork lardo? They're pretty much amazing.
5:30 pm-close Wednesday-Saturday. $$$$.