Fratelli is a classic. It was the first nice restaurant I ever ate at in Portland and it holds a warm, nostalgic spot in my heart. It's a place you can keep coming back to with confidence, both that the menu will have evolved with the seasons and that your dining experience will be multi-layered and satisfying--even if you accidentally drop in on First Thursday.
With a long and lean dining room with simple wood tables and chairs, a crowded and attractively populated bar, and an open-air kitchen, eating at Fratelli is both inclusive and intimate. You can show up in jeans or slacks, and split a bountiful antipasti plate (braised asparagus, roasted potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, meats, and cheeses) at the bar, or spend three hours savoring a four-course meal.
Much like the menus in Italy, Fratelli's rustic Italian menu offers primi, pasta, and secondi courses. In Italy you'd order one of each, but here I'd recommend sharing at least one of the three. The primi menu contains some of the most compelling items, including the creamy, decadent roasted pear tart with blue cheese, leeks, parsnips, and rosemary ($7). Presented like a fancy dessert with twirls of parsnips decorating the plate wildly, the tart not only looked beautiful, but also kept my dining partner and I fighting for the last bite. Other primi menu winners include the explosively fresh organic arugula and mint salad with almonds and egg, and polenta with densely flavorful fresh wild mushrooms.
One of Fratelli's most remarkable qualities is their commitment to buying from local, organic growers and natural meat producers like Junction City, Oregon's Cattail Creek Lamb. You can taste both the integrity that goes into creating the meal, and the supreme quality of the ingredients--a must considering Fratelli chef Paul Klitsie's trademark is using only a few items to create a fabulous dish.
The Painted Hills flat iron steak I ordered indicated Klitsie' expertise. Served sliced and bloody in the middle, the meat was rich and tender and served with a deeply flavorful, musky gravy on an addictively creamy bed of potato and vegetable puree ($19.50). Likewise, the halibut special was spiked with salty marinade and served with crispy fresh green beans.
Less exciting was the featured pasta, made with fettuccine, olive oil, and vegetables. Perhaps it was intentionally bland, but next time I'd opt for a more dynamic pasta dish like the taglierini pasta with charred tomatoes, garlic, anchovy, and chiles, or the rich and meaty lasagna made with beef, pork, and decadent bechamel sauce ($14.75).
After a fundamentally satisfying experience, my only complaint about Fratelli was the Grey Goose martini that ended up costing 12 bucks. While specialty cocktails like the vodka, gingery Mayanna cocktail run about $7, a call martini costs almost as much as an entree.
Overall, though, my friend and I had a great time at dinner, sharing dishes, appreciating Fratelli's exceptional olive oil, savoring the vegetables, beef, and wine, and successfully killing most of the evening. Fratelli undoubtedly knows what fine dining is all about, delivering consistency, quality, excitement, and a comfortable place to sit.