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December 5th, 2007 Mike Thelin | z-Eat Me
 

Pearl Pickings

Imports claim Northwest territory.

     
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Isabel’s coconut french toast
IMAGE: cameron browne

If the newish Pearl District eatery Leonardo’s (939 NW Lovejoy St., 546-2223) , which took over the spot where Graze once resided, were a car, it’d be a Ford Aerostar minivan. If it were an article of clothing, it’d be a Hypercolor shirt. And that’s OK. It’s safe to say the strip-mall Italian cuisine is not going to attract a serious foodie following, but Leonardo’s pizza does have its own appeal.

Admit it: Gigantic meaty portions appeal to the hunter-gatherer or red-blooded American in every one of us. When two pounds of sausage arrive on a 13-inch pizza with a thickness that would make Ron Jeremy blush, one word comes to mind: awesome!

Leonardo’s serves gigantic pies in an interior accented with creams and mauves and faux-Romanesque arches, and boasts a menu font straight outta 1983. Leo’s Supreme ($20) is two inches thick with a layer of zingless red sauce, pepperoni, button mushrooms, canned black olives, mozzarella and enough pepper-flaked Italian sausage to feed a village in Sudan.

The rest of the menu will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited an Olive Garden: fettuccine Alfredo, chicken Parmigiana, pasta e fagioli soup and a host of other familiar dishes. The Caesar salad ($7) is punchless—absent of the crucial hints of anchovy and acid—but amply croutoned and freakin’ huge. Then again, rubbery mussels ($9) served in a martini glass aren’t worth the five minutes of my life I spent trying to chew them.

As I mentioned, the location has seen two ventures come and go in just as many years (Nina’s Place and Graze, RIP), and we can only hope that the Leonardo’s mini-chain will fare as well in the Pearl as at its original location in Battleground, Wash.

Several blocks south, San Diego-based restaurateur Isabel Cruz has arrived in Portland assuming that we’ve heard of her California empire already. Cruz’s fifth restaurant, Isabel (330 NW 10th Ave., 222-4333) —featuring a poster of herself and cookbooks for sale—showcases her own brand of California Asian-Latin fusion, and the offerings so far are as cutting edge as Michael Dukakis.

There seems to be a pattern: Avocado for color and good fat, black beans for fiber, tomatoes for zing, rosemary for flavor; all bound together by what’s straightforwardly referred to on the menu as “cheese”—seven times on the breakfast menu alone.

The fare is neither innovative nor memorable, but Isabel provides the Pearl District with another healthy breakfast and lunch option—we hear dinner hours are on the horizon—and the neighborhood response has been good so far. Concoctions like the avocado scramble with cheese, jalapeños, black beans and rosemary potatoes are tasty enough, and other than the orange juice ($4 for an eight-ounce glass!), items are well priced. In today’s Pearl—where I’m pretty sure personal trainers outnumber working artists these days—Isabel’s could do quite well.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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