Restaurant Guide 2013: Nostrana

1401 SE Morrison St., 234-2427,

[VIVA L'ITALIA] It's never as hard to excel as to excel consistently. This is the reason Nostrana executive chef Cathy Whims has earned five consecutive James Beard Award nominations. With a critical assist from chef de cuisine Brian Murphy, the Nostrana team turns out some of Portland's better Italian cuisine day in, day out. From the perfectly ripe peaches and heirloom tomatoes to the fresh mozzarella, feather-light pizza crust and resplendent collection of wines, aperitifs and whiskeys, no ingredient is indifferently chosen. The house charcuterie plate alone is enough to vault two diners into the stratosphere: truffled vin santo paté, figatellu sausage, porchetta di testa, crispy pork trotter and "lamb ham," served with pickled sour cherries (tart, but not painfully so) and other preserves. Hardly a week seems to go by when Nostrana isn't hosting a community benefit, and the staff handles crowds with aplomb. Viva Cathy Whims. In 2014, may she win that medal and stop being the Susan Lucci of Northwest gastronomy.

Ideal meal: A wine flight and the charcuterie plate ($18); albacore tuna with garlic-saffron rouille, chanterelles, sage, tomato and sweet corn ($28); butterscotch budino with caramel and vanilla salt ($7).

Best deal: Roll in after 9 pm, order the marinara pizza, the Insalata Nostrana and a Campari and soda, and you'll still have change from a $20.

Pro tip: On Gnocchi Thursdays, Nostrana's tiny, tender potato dumplings might come four or five different ways. Try them with octopus, manila clams, pancetta and pecorino ($16), or more simply with Marcella Hazan's No. 3 tomato butter sauce ($15).

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. $$$.


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