[MODERN GARDEN] Under chef Justin Woodward, the elegant, modernist-leaning Castagna is as good as it's ever been. That's saying something since Woodward's predecessor, Matthew Lightner, decamped for New York, where he's become a star. Still, nothing else in Portland comes close to matching the sophistication of vision and execution this at this Southeast stalwart. Diners select from a smaller or more elaborate tasting menu ($75-$125) that changes monthly, with optional wine pairings for each course ($40-$60). The opening succession of tiny "snacks" might include a buckwheat cracker with a dab of avocado mousse, a fruit roll-up filled with sheep's milk cheese and shiso leaf, or a buttermilk puff hiding a smidge of egg salad and trout roe. On a summer visit, the feast included a delicious platescape of sculptured baby artichoke, sugar-sweet cherry tomato and an ivory round of parmesan panna cotta, resting on a base of tomato water and garnished with herbs and flower petals in hues of purple, orange and yellow. An off-menu course served in a cocktail glass was an edible terrarium comprising layers of onion custard and green onion puree with green almonds, fava beans and more garden delights strewn on top, some of which were selected from raised beds behind the restaurant. In a town that mostly disdains fancy food and anything that smacks of pretense, it is a gift to have a restaurant like Castagna. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Vegetarians can be accommodated here with larger versions of some dishes on the tasting menus, plus special off-menu offerings.