Nel Centro: Portland's Riviera


Usually one would never associate Portland with a town that probably smells like sunscreen year round, but David Machado's newest restaurant, Nel Centro is influenced by the cuisine of the French and Italian Rivieras.  I really can't say if they nailed what they were going for with Bain de Soleil being the closest I've ever been to any Riviera,  but I will definitely be returning. The space feels modern and sophisticated yet playful. The use of materials is definitely influenced by the mid-century Hotel Modera, that the restaurant is attached to. Floor to ceiling windows let light in from north and south, with the south side facing a courtyard whose evening fire pits you can enjoy while having a drink at the hip and happening bar. As to our meal, the appetizers were gorgeous and the ingredients were local and at their peak. What really slayed us were our entrees. J had a tender piece of pork shoulder, bone in, a portion which will please the manly meat lover. I don't know how they kept it so tender, but they did. The pork was served with a fruit compote that reminded me of a chutney that might fit right in at Machado's Vindalhou in the Clinton neighborhood. My Delmonico steak was also generous and tender, but the clincher was the potato gratin- the best I've ever had. Luckily, you can order the gratin as a side dish, as well as a fennel gratin and pomme frittes. I have a feeling these a la carte sides are going to be destination dishes. After the substantial meal we passed on desert, but were able to take the rest of our wine out to the courtyard, finishing it next to a friendly group of young attorneys from a nearby office building. We were all very happy to have a new restaurant in SW Portland. Along with Clyde Commons, Park Kitchen and Higgens, I'm beginning to feel that downtown Portland's food scene can hope to rival the east side. More must see restaurant, garden and hotel pictures.