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You Can Just Walk Right Up to the Modernist Temple They Call Castagna—That's Crazy

Halfway through the dish I felt an overwhelming wash of sadness, because the feeling couldn’t possibly last.

Castagna can come off like a rebuke to every self-consciously inconvenient pop-up in town. Four nights a week, chef Justin Woodward offers meals as sophisticated, creative, varied and intimate as any monthly 10-person church could ever hope to attain in a spacious dining room whose hush lets you hear a rose-scented moscato d'Asti bloom in your glass.

Each meal—whether the full four-hour $155 chef's tasting menu or a $98 dinner menu that may offer a mere 12 or 13 plates—begins with a succession of beautiful trifles. This may include a molded beet cracker whose underbelly hides a beet tartare stirred to fresh acidic brightness, or geoduck filleted into delicate layers finer than prosciutto.

Related: Castagna is world-class in both ambition and execution.

Moving into the main menu, one tiny dish will be an exercise in Spanish-modernist subtlety, setting off a tender bean foam against a tart burst of heirloom cherry tomato. The next is a riot, literally the heart of an African mammal. That spicy, vinegared antelope tataki was a highlight not just of the meal but the year, tingled up with Korean sancho—a relative to Sichuan pepper—grown in the restaurant's own herb garden. But even that paled next to rare-cooked A5 wagyu so tender it makes all other steak seem like cow-flavored chewing gum.

Related: The Best Happy Hours in Southeast Portland

Halfway through the dish I felt an overwhelming wash of sadness, because the feeling couldn't possibly last. But it lingered all the way through three courses of dessert.

Eat: Mistakes aren't possible here.

Drink: A split drink pairing ($55 or $75), expertly curated and enthusiastically described by wine director Brent Braun, may run from 20-year Italian stashed when the restaurant began, to unpasteurized namazake sake, rare French beer, natural wines from Oregon's Brianne Day and amontillado sherries whose makers are described in intimate and hilarious detail.

Most popular dish: There is only one constant: complex, thick-crusted, house-baked rolls refilled as often as you like, accompanied by a bowl of addictive herbed fat and housemade butter that is also topped with toasted brown-butter.

Noise level: 10/100

Expected wait: Reservations are polite. But like almost no other restaurant of its type and caliber, Castagna can accommodate walk-ins with the sweep of a hand.

Who you'll eat with: Sponsors of the arts, children of hoteliers, and a parade of anniversaries.

Year opened: 1999

1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-231-7373, castagnarestaurant.com. 5:30-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday. $$$$.

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