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April 10th, 2002 Roger J. Porter | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Madame Butterfly: The Program

A review about a restaurant named for an opera written in the style of a musical. Got it?

     
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IMAGE: anthony georgis
Puccini makes an unexpected appearance in Portland and visits Madame Butterfly, a new Sino-Mediterranean restaurant downtown. As a result of his intriguing meal, he decides to rewrite his opera as an East-West culinary musical.

Act I

U.S. Navy Lt. F.B. Pinkerton, fresh off a battleship in town for the Rose Festival, leaves the fleet to dine alone at Madame Butterfly. Lured by the discreet, nearly invisible sign on the door, he enters the small, elegant restaurant, breathes the air of the Floating World of Edo and is immediately enticed by the sumptuous kimonos, the silken pillows, and the candles strewn throughout the place. But he cannot take his eyes from Cho-Cho-San, a charming ex-geisha waitress who offers him sake in a decanter of ice-blue crystal.

Pinkerton, who has never eaten, let alone dreamed of, eggplant with a scallop miso sauce ($7), is beside himself with pleasure. Is it the creamy, mousse-like stuffing or the tiny Japanese scallops scattered across the eggplant like white cherry petals that have seduced him? Or is it the charming, delicate gestures of Madame Butterfly herself? (For Pinkerton imagines that his server is the eponymous owner.) Before he can recover from his swoon of ecstasy, she has plied him with a delicious curiosity: a lacy escargot tempura ($13) wrapped in seaweed sprinkled with green tea salts. Though entranced by the rare delight, Pinkerton is shocked that such a creature has made an appearance here. "Snails in Japan? What gives?" he wonders. Mme. B. informs him that "fusion" is now the rage (Pinkerton, who's been sailing the seas for a decade, hadn't a clue). "And we like to fuse the cultures," she sings with a meaningful wink, punctuating her temptation aria with a dish meant to bewitch the hapless lieutenant.

She trills a high scale to celebrate the proffered grilled crab with spicy cream sauce ($11) minced in its shell (Pinkerton hears the inveigling notes of koto and samisen on the stereo, faints again with joy). But something isn't right; he suddenly spies an oddity beneath the crab: a grainy sugary meringue. Seized by a feeling that he has stumbled into a den of incongruity, Pinkerton fears that Cho-Cho-San isn't so innocent as he imagined Japanese women to be, even thinks he's being played for a fool. By now she's giving him the full bicultural treatment, hoping he will get the hint and fuse their very lives. To accomplish her goal, she delivers a platter of pan-fried mozzarella squares ($7.50)--galley chow in Pinkerton's eyes--but with just a touch of native allure: a ravishing ume sauce! But it's too late for Pinkerton to be mollified. Even though he's been eyeing some glistening salmon sushi ($2), he departs in bewilderment. Butterfly, distraught, sings her great lament of the lotus root.

Act II

A year later, the fleet's back, and Pinkerton arrives with his new American fiancée in tow. Butterfly, who's been grieving all the while, has hoped to lure him with her spanking-fresh tuna, wasabi and shaved radish, a dish no man of the sea could withstand. She plaintively sings "One beautiful daikon," when in walks the pair. Butterfly, who's been filleting calamari sashimi ($9) she'll glaze with an ambrosial plum sauce and over which she'll scatter edible primroses like blossoms from the Plum Pleasure Gardens of Kyoto, is dumbstruck by the Other Woman. She grabs the fish cleaver, wracked between murder and hara-kiri. Pinkerton, unexpectedly torn between the two women, is no less vacillating than she; they sing the moving duet, the ballad of the irresolute isobe-maki. But Butterfly, love now swelling in her bosom, has one trick up her kimono sleeve. She rushes to her kitchen and produces her pièces de non-rèsistance: fresh fruits in a hot berry sauce with tea ice cream ($12.50), and "chocolate sushi" ($7.50)--candies and fruits with coconut shreds to resemble rice, pooled in rich fudge sauce. Pinkerton succumbs and sings the "hell with ethnic purity" aria. Miraculously, the fiancée disappears in a puff of steam from the rice cooker. As Butterfly and Pinkerton, fully sated, collapse into each other's arms, the curtain falls.


Madame Butterfly
403 SW Stark St. 503- 525- 0033 Open 11 am-11 pm Monday- Wednesday, 11 am-2 am Thursday- Friday, 5 pm-2 am Saturday, 5 pm-1 am Sunday. Credit cards accepted. Kids welcome until 10 pm, though seldom seen. Moderate- Expensive.



Picks: Tuna tartar, Korean-style calamari, eggplant with scallop miso sauce, grilled crab, chocolate sushi, fresh fruits in hot berry sauce.



Nice touch: Extensive list of small plates (Japanese tapas).
 
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