• Photo: Kevin Willrick
EARLY IN OUR RELATIONSHIP my girlfriend and I went on a travel-writing trip together. I took pictures of her all along the way; across tables in restaurants we couldn't otherwise afford, alongside medieval casements, that sort of thing. She was delighted by the photos, despite my lack of skill with the camera. She said that she had always disliked pictures of herself, except for the few taken by her adoring children. Hence the maxim: You can't take a wonderful picture of something unless you love it.

That tidy little concept comes to mind when I see the unloved, unfocused food at Piattino.

First, some quick background. Piattino was formerly the Mediterranean-Iranian restaurant Shiraz Grill. Two years ago, Nostrana spin-off Oven and Shaker moved in next door to Shiraz. Oven and Shaker made so much money, Shiraz decided to become Italian too, taking cues from its neighbor's menu and décor. That's fine, right? Lots of Portland restaurants look like each other!

No. In an interview recently, John Gorham (Toro Bravo, the Tasty restaurants) told me that he doesn't like his cooks to prepare one of his dishes until the cook loves it, until they "get" what's great about it. The care comes through in the food; what's special about it is featured to its best effect. When I receive a dish at Piattino—say, the wood-fire-roasted half hen with peperonata, parsley, and fennel pollen ($12)—my signals go haywire, then quiet. The bird's skin is more black-gray than appetizingly charred, the peperonata is limp and bland, and the whole assembly sits in a cast-iron pan in a pure black ring of the creosote of god knows what, having sat under a broiler for god knows how long. No one who loves roasted hen sends out a dish that dull and ugly. It's nothing to share with people.

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