BURRASCA'S MENU offers no pork belly, no truffle butter, no fleeting menu item placed there to please the Yelpers. It's fucking refreshing.
Like a puff of oregano-scented air over the streets of SE Clinton, Burrasca is putting out rustic, traditional—and yes, sometimes imperfect—Italian that speaks honestly and without pretense. There's no kids' menu, but they do offer to make pasta with butter for the bambinos. There are several bottles of wine under $25, including the red La Bastarda for just a Jackson.
Burrasca opened a few months ago as a full-service restaurant, leaving behind its previous life as a food cart run by Florence-born Paolo Calamai and his wife, Elizabeth Petrosian. Burrasca was known then as a place to practice patience while waiting for Calamai to emerge with his signature inzimino ($16), squid simmered down with red wine and spinach, served with pungent garlic bread.
This holds true at the restaurant as well. As such, Burrasca is best for a leisurely Friday lunch with a friend, enjoying a $6 prosecco with a sumptuous wild boar ragu, the tender shredded meat sharing equal space with rich tomato sauce, over handmade pappardelle wide as a tank track ($17). We shared the dish, along with the deeply flavorful if visually lackluster pasta e cici ($9), a soup of pureed chickpeas with handmade pasta, sopping it all up with a basket of crescentine ($4), a puffy, salty fried breadstick that's a must-order every visit.
Calamai is always around at dinner, stopping by tables to inquire about your meal. He was also the saving grace on our first visit, when the restaurant was swamped with a line out the door: He alone was responsible for bringing me a Negroni ($9) after we got lost in the rush. As a buzzy new restaurant, Burrasca is still working on not being overwhelmed. This first trip out of three contained the only major blunders: A spinach and ricotta gnudi with brown sage butter ($14) was mushy and bland, and the garlic on a side of bread was so raw it rendered the slices nearly inedible.
A more recent dinner on a Tuesday evening was laidback by comparison, like the neighborhood destination it's meant to be: We sat next to two birthday parties, both provided a slice of layered zuccotto cake and a candle, and someone even let one of their miscreant children swing in the bamboo stand on the back patio. It's as it should be. Down a glass with the tagliere platter ($14), with Italian pecorino and fresco cheeses, imported fennel salami, and the best damn buttery Castelvetrano olives I've had in a minute.
And don't worry, people of Portland, there's still kale on the menu... with thresher shark. The thresher shark, something I've not seen on a menu in town, is a byproduct of other catches. Here, it's served over a bed of kale with a generous ladle of herbed tomato sauce for $18. The thick fillet is a bit dry, but it's a good platform for the strong sides.
It may be located in a new-ish building in Southeast Portland, but Burrasca's strong Italian tradition of simple plates and reasonable wine give all the new industrial lines soul. That's saying something.
Tues-Thurs 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat 11:30 am-2:30 pm, 5-9:30 pm. Limited bar. No reservations.