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March 15th, 2006 Ivy Manning | Food Reviews & Stories
 

The True Tortilla

Autentica lives up to its name with real-deal Mexican eats.

     
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Autentica
IMAGE: AMY OULETTE
Naming your restaurant Autentica is a risky move. If there were even a hint of inauthentic food at former Southpark sous chef Oswaldo Bibiano's new Concordia neighborhood restaurant, Portland foodies would cry foul after the first stale tortilla chip.

All doubts are handily cast aside as you walk into the terra cotta-tinted dining room. The first thing you may see is the chef-owner's mother, Roberta Bibiano, or his wife, co-owner Ebelia Madrano, standing in the gleaming open kitchen making tortillas. It's those velvety tortillas that serve as a homey anchor for a type of Mexican food that is rarely seen in Portland, a cuisine with little in the way of concessions to gringo palates and all the soul of home cooking.

To start, tender octopus with red onion and serrano peppers ($7) and mixed seafood ceviche acapulqueno ($8) are fresh tributes to Bibiano's hometown near Acapulco. Triple up on richly spiced chopped pork tacos with fiery salsa ($1.50) or a shredded chicken and chipotle ($3) tostada. The star of the starters? Ultra-rich sopa fideos ($6), a mild broth with vermicelli noodles ladled over delicate poached eggs.

But the true litmus test of a genuine Mexican kitchen is its mole. When done right, the dish tastes rustic but incredibly complex at the same time. It does just that at Autentica. The mole teloloapan ($13), served over a half-chicken, includes eight different kinds of dried chilies, which race across the palate with sweetness, heat, toasty nut flavor and a touch of earthiness. Plus the fistfuls of steaming tortillas that accompany the dish are the world's most perfect sauce sopping-up device.

A green mole gets bright acidity from tomatillos and lushness from ground pumpkin seed, proving a perfect foil for a delicate pork tenderloin ($12). It's also found on the enchilada plate ($11), drenching a shredded chicken-filled tortilla alongside a Oaxacan cheese-stuffed poblano chiles rellenos that packs just enough heat to make you sweat.

On weekends, brunch features Mexican soul food like huevos rancheros ($8)—over-easy eggs on tortillas in a mild red chili broth with ham-studded black beans—and the movingly soulful chilaquiles ($8), strips of fried corn tortillas in red chili sauce topped with crema alongside a small, juicy grilled steak. It's the kind of breakfast that has "hangover cure" written all over it.

Autentica isn't perfect: Occasional waits for food and sincere but uncertain service smack of a restaurant that is still trying to find its footing. But those silky-singed tortillas and lush mole are payback enough. Besides, everyone knows bona fide authentic cooking takes time.


Autentica, 5507 NE 30th Ave., 287-7555. Lunch and dinner 11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, brunch and dinner 10 am-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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