Portofino Caffé Italiano
8075 SE 13th

You're either a cream sauce person or you're not. When you peruse an Italian menu, you either see the alfredo and vodka sauce dishes and your mouth waters, or you ignore them altogether, opting for a spicy arrabiata sauce, or a chunky meat or marinara. I'm not a cream sauce person. Mind you, I want to be. I've tried 50 times, but heavy cream and butter concoctions require a constitution stronger than mine.

All this blabbering is serving as somewhat of a disclaimer, because Portofino Caffé Italiano has a menu loaded with cream sauces, and frankly, one I can't get that excited about. The menu hosts mostly vegetarian, veal, and seafood based dishes, with a few chicken and beef selections. Most entrees include Gorgonzola sauces, or cream sauces, or vodka sauces--which if you're not familiar with vodka sauce, is a tomato, cream, and vodka combination, and actually pretty delicious.

Despite my reservations, I ordered the Frutti di Mare Portofino--a blend of tender risotto, a light cream sauce, and a mix of seafood which at the least contained mussels, shrimp, and squid. I've always found seafood mixtures to be less reliable than, say, the daily fish special, and on this occasion, such was the case. The seafood had taken on a fishy taste, which carried throughout the sauce and risotto. In short, it was too much--the mussels were past their prime, and the rest of the seafood was iffy, which then made the creamy blend questionable and heavy--a bad combination.

In contrast, however, the chicken marsala dish my date ordered was delicious and near perfect. Big chunks of tender mushrooms danced around in a dark, musky, marsala wine sauce, accented with just a hint of cream. In this dish, the richness was brilliantly understated, and went beautifully with the lean, pounded-tender chicken. If you enjoy the texture of tenderized meat, Portofino does a beautiful job, lightly breading the filet, and creating a far more compelling piece of chicken than a typical dry breast. Served with a medley of plump, seasoned mixed vegetables, and a generous pile of fettuccine marinara, it was a delicious meal.

For those intrigued by a dinner of tender homemade gnocchi (a dense potato dumpling) and Gorgonzola sauce, this is one of the few restaurants in town that masters this dish. Likewise, it's also one of a limited number of menus that so heavily features veal, a meat worshipped with the same intensity as chocolate.

For first timers, try the Portofino Caffé on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, where one person in a party of four eats free. It's a good excuse to get some friends together, and the comfortable, bistro-style dining room is conducive to both intimate dining and socializing. While eating at Portofino I noticed that most tables hung around long after their meal, talking and sipping on one of the restaurant's bevy of wines.

This may not be the restaurant for me, as spending nearly 20 dollars a plate on rich pasta isn't my thing--but I have no doubt it will make fans out of plenty of others who haven't discovered it already.