The space next door to Big City Produce—one of Portland's little treasures—should be an ideal restaurant location. It's in an extremely accessible spot right off the I-5 Alberta exit, and mere inches away from a popular independent grocery store with some of the freshest fruits and vegetables in town. And yet, the lovably vegan-friendly Small World Café proved that a restaurant could do most things right and still not survive there. Here's hoping we all try a little harder this time, because the new tenants in Small World's old space, Albina Green, are no less worthy of your love.
Albina Green offers a relatively small number of appetizers and entrées, but the decreased number of dishes apparently has resulted in an increased focus on quality—Albina Green does what it does exceedingly well.
All the "green" dishes Albina Green serves up are, fittingly, wonderfully fresh, but what really sets them apart are the dressings, which my friend described as "exciting." It's true—the organic greens with apple, roasted pecans, and Danish blue cheese included a zesty vinaigrette that grabbed our taste buds by the collar and shook them. It was energetically tart, but also perfectly complimented the accompanying nuts, fruit, and cheese, resulting in an amazing salad. Those same greens can also come with an equally delicious vegan Caesar dressing. Or, walk on the wild side with the braised root vegetables and mustard greens with rosemary Montrachet chevre and watercress vinaigrette. We opted for the soup of the day, a decadent, creamy winter squash number that slid down the throat with exquisite smoothness.
Our main course brought a slightly soggy pulled-pork sandwich with mango slaw. The meat itself was sufficiently tender, its flavor savory, but it was undermined by a cheap, almost industrial-style onion bun. Meanwhile, my friend eagerly devoured the grilled chipotle-marinated tombo tuna, which arrived prettily atop a bed of arugula greens and delicata squash perfectly sauced by more of that stellar vinaigrette. The fish itself could not have been better prepared; crispy on the outside, pink and buttery on the inside.
The tuna is an anomaly on Albina Green's menu, however. Pork is the main ingredient of choice, appearing in the form of medallions with onion marmalade, barbecued ribs with slaw, and an andouille sausage in pesto-dusted gemelli pasta. Pig protectors might want to head elsewhere, though you'll be missing out. Albina Green's cuisine is almost entirely topnotch, and comes at affordable prices ($7-13, except for the rib-eye steak, which is slightly astronomical). It also has plenty of microbrews and fine wines.
If I absolutely have to complain about the place (and alas, I do), I have to say it's not the most inviting hangout spot at this point in time. Its bar area, with rather strange caveman-esque stone tables, is decent enough, but an attached dining area has enormous, distractingly ugly artwork on the walls and weird overhead lights that hang down too far but are lit too bright, resulting in an off-putting dull glow. But the food itself made everything okay again, and I have full confidence that Albina Green will pull its décor together in the near future. Once it realizes it's a great restaurant that people love, it'll start to behave like one.