Castagna's forward thinking chef and chief forager Matthew Lightner is leaving the restaurant reports Karen Brooks over at Portland Monthly. According to the chef, he's opening a restaurant in New York this August. Lightner's right hand man at Castagna, Justin Woodward, will take over the restaurant's kitchen.
Lightner, who labored at the renowned restaurants Mugaritz (in Spain) and Noma (in Copenhagen), is working in a different vein from the tongue-in-cheek deconstructionists whoâve attracted so much attention. This isnât better eating through chemistry; most of his preparations could be replicated at home, if you were willing to spend a lot of time at it. Rather, Castagnaâs menu is filled with the sort of food a child might prepare, if that child happened to be a fantastically skilled cookâstrange, evocative and occasionally off-putting in appearance, but very tasty nonetheless. A few examples, which certainly wonât be on the menu by the time you read this: thick slices of quick-pickled cucumber marinated in rice vinegar and dill, sprinkled with flowers and peeled green almonds, attacked from the side by an avalanche of snowy powderâactually frozen, shaved, smoked tunaâthat looked like some sort of accident and tasted like some sort of sushi ($14); a dish of morel mushrooms, buckwheat groats, ferns and barbecued lamb that looked and smelled like a forest floor ($23); a carrot, poached in birch-wood syrup, coated with finely chopped bone marrow and hazelnuts, that tasted like a barbecued pork rib ($14); an aged loin strip steak ($30) that tasted grilled not because it had ever seen smoke, but because it was rubbed with garlic ash (slightly gritty, but not unpleasant). Even a relatively traditional appetizer of grilled shallots and squid arms in pan jus ($15) was presented as a terrifying Lovecraftian landscape. As I ate, I imagined Lightner grinning as he positioned the tentacles just so. Why serve chanterelles over a gelatinous rectangle of corn curd? Why not?