A little over a month ago, I made a dessert of homemade buttermilk ice cream and cardamom orange shortbread for a multiple James Beard Award-nominated chef. And she liked it.
Of course, Chef Cathy Whims, of Portland’s Nostrana, might just be a really, really nice person (she IS a really, really nice person), but her fond appreciation of food prepared in her honor made dessert even sweeter.
Dessert first? (photo by Dan Driscoll)
This culinary coup d’etat took place in the marvelous new kitchen (it needs a better name — Dinner Theater? Food Worship Room?) of our Oysterville neighbors Steve Romero and Martie Kilmer. Together, Steve and Martie have created a space that welcomes and warms, intoxicates and inebriates — and not just with their one-of-a-kind cocktails and collectible champagne (if there is such a thing).
With a wood-fired oven and a built-in paellera, the new Captain Stream House kitchen is Steve’s center stage, and we are often lucky to be an audience to his generous performances.
Steve in his elements….
Martie is an extraordinary designer, whose touch has influenced dozens of Portland eateries — including Cathy Whims’ Nostrana. (Martie’s also no slouch in the kitchen.)
This particular weekend, Whims and her husband and partner, David West, were vacationing at Steve and Martie’s Oysterville Guest House, and we were invited to join them for dinner.
Oysterville Sea Farms, (my sweetheart’s day job, night job and side job), happens to be one of Cathy’s favorite place for seafood, so in addition to dessert, we of course brought oysters.
Steve created a cockle and wild mushroom pasta, and his friend Pete fried up some meaty oysters and helped shuck the smaller ones (and made the dreamy fudge sauce for my ice cream).
Pan-fried oysters and a lil’ wine.
David, Cathy, Steve
And while I usually find that nothing can improve on Oysterman’s hours-out-of-the-bay oysters, Cathy knocked out a simple mignonette that somehow elevated an already perfect food to something you could describe with words like “can you drink mignonette?” and “wait, aren’t there more?”
It was over bowls of buttermilk ice cream (I used this recipe that I found on one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen) that Cathy invited us — strangers who had never been to her restaurant — to the private celebration of Nostrana’s 10th anniversary on October 11th.
Nostrana Dieci? Oysterman and I were IN.
From its beginnings, Nostrana was on the forefront of Portland’s farm-to-table revolution, winning awards right out of the gate.
Whims, who trained at the table of the legendary Marcella Hazan, for one, was a female chef at a time when there weren’t really that many female chefs.
During our meal together, Cathy described an ethereal taco she’d once had as “almost like flavored air,” meaning what’s not in there is as important as what’s there — “like the sound between the notes in the music.”
This unique and unusual perspective is one thing that sets a master chef apart, and a desire to create a dining experience unique in its simplicity is another. And, even though the Nostrana anniversary affair was a “night off” for the Nostrana crew (the staff at another Whims venue, Oven and Shaker, handled the heavy lifting), great care was taken to present an experience worthy of Whims’ vision.
Portland event planner Natalia Toral coordinated a stellar event, which started with THIS:
25 cases of Andre Clouet Silver label served by hot champagne goddesses? Yes, please….
Autentico Italian musica
The weather cooperated to allow being outside on a mild Oregon October evening, which included a magical sunset. And arriving unfashionably early allowed for maximum enjoyment of the oyster bar, provided by Olympia Oyster Bar.
Their raw Netart’s oysters, smoked Hama Hamas, and smoked mussels in chilpachole broth made for the perfect patio prelim, even though I really did eat enough shellfish for it to qualify as a meal. I finally had to move inside for fear of embarrassing myself with a third trip to both bars (champagne and oyster).
Nostrana’s warm, open space feels like the best neighborhood family restaurant, if that family had a house cocktail (the Negroni) and a Rancillo espresso machine. A short film about Nostrana and Cathy Whims played in the main room, and a table displayed party favors of mini bottles of Arbequina olive oil.
Dessert? A 10 foot-long cake lovingly prepared by Miss Zumstein Bakery’s Anja Spence.
10 feet of sweet….
Dinner proper, a buffet served outside under the tent, featured a whole pig roasted by Portland fire-wielder, BJ Smith of Smokehouse Tavern, wood-fired pizzas from Tastebud, and roast chicken and salads (including the scrummy Insalata Nostrana, the best Caesar I’ve had) served up by Oven and Shaker.
There were party games….
Champagne ring toss?
…we got to enjoy another Portland specialty, a fabulously talented and original band, Three For Silver….
…and they finally let us eat cake, 10 feet and two flavors of decadence: chocolate with Yamhill tart cherries, dark chocolate frosting and whipped cream, and Hazelnut Buttercake with vanilla bean pastry cream and Mt. Hood Organic Farms pears roasted with brown sugar — frosted with Toasted Meringue. Good God, y’all.
Cathy Whims in Nostrana
At the apex of the evening, Cathy Whims took the mike and gave a warm, gracious speech, acknowledging her friends, family, customers, purveyors, and staff, and I understood why it’s such a beloved place.
It’s not simply the food, drinks and atmosphere, it’s the soul. Nostrana means “ours,” and Cathy Whims sincerely means it.
I’m ready for my Negroni now.