Mucca Osteria –
It’s no secret that American people love Italian food. Is it surprising that we eat more pizza than we do apple pie? The fact is, even some of the least desirable Italian restaurants survive, if for nothing else than because who doesn’t love spaghetti, no matter how bland?
Fortunately, Portlanders don’t have to deal with undesirable fare or bland spaghetti, not when they’ve got Mucca Osteria waiting for their discerning palates. Opened in 2011 by chef-owner Simone Savaiano, Mucca Osteria delivers elegant Italian in unexpected ways.
From Italy to America
One thing that many Italian restaurants can’t lay claim to is a chef who is Italian by birth. Savaiano brings an authenticity to his restaurant that one can only get from having lived in Italy.
After working in the restaurant industry back home, Savaiano migrated to the United States. After a stop in Florida, he ended up in Los Angeles, where he tried to set roots down as he toiled in a cutthroat restaurant industry. His heavy Italian accent is apparent as he speaks.
“I didn’t really like L.A.,” he says dryly. “It was too much for me. I was working for so long in the restaurant industry there, which is very bad.”
Savaiano had hopes to open a restaurant in Los Angeles, but the nature of the city was not to his liking. After meeting his soon-to-be wife there, they decided it was time to make a move. They traveled around for a bit and ended up in Portland. According to Savaiano, it was love at first sight.
“I fell in love with Portland right away,” he says. “I knew it was the city that could give me what I was looking for at the time. I liked how people are more relaxed and laid back compared to most other U.S. cities.”
A Dream Realized
Having been smitten by Portland’s appealing vibe, Savaiano and his wife moved to town. This is where Savaiano would pursue the dream of opening his own restaurant. As it is with any fledgling venture however, the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“I was going around looking for a location and we didn’t have a lot of money,” he explains. “I did this for six months and it wasn’t easy. Money in the bank was going down and it seemed my timing was definitely off.”
Although Savaiano initially didn’t want to open downtown, time was running out. For his dream to survive, he needed to quickly land a location.
“Finally this location came about,” he says, “and for many reasons it was clear to me that it was the location I was looking for. The tables were here and some things in the kitchen were here.”
With a little investment – the last of his dwindling funds – Savaiano opened Mucca Osteria, although the troubles didn’t end there. This having been his first restaurant, the immediate surge in business caught Mucca unprepared.
“When we first opened, we got this big article in the Oregonian,” he says. “Everybody came right away and we were not at all prepared. We got some bad reviews and that slowed us down in the beginning.”
Fortunately, Portlanders are a forgiving crowd. Before long word was spreading and steadily Mucca was filled to capacity and buzzing with activity.
Tales of Ancient Rome
The first thing you notice when entering Mucca is that it is a small space. There are two levels, with the majority of the tables being on the second floor. Be prepared for an intimate affair where animated conversations overlap and mouth-watering scents waft from the kitchen.
The décor is classic Italian, which is exactly what Savaiano is shooting for. “I’m Italian, an old-school guy,” he says with a lopsided grin as he pats his chest. “I like an elegant place, clean and simple. I also wanted to give an idea of where I am coming from and what I am doing.”
The intricate chandeliers and Roman artwork contrast with the classic brick architecture. The atmosphere is as understated as it is elegant.
And although the architecture may take you back to ancient Rome, expect the food to keep you firmly grounded in the present. This is traditional Italian food fed through an expressionistic mind.
“I need to go around and experience other cuisines,” he says of his creative process. “I study a lot and I think about it a lot.” Judging by the food at Mucca, it shows.
Italian Food Expressionism
The evening might start out with an octopus terrine with roasted bell pepper gelato. The presentation alone is worth the price of admission. Tender morsels of octopus practically melt in your mouth and the bell pepper gelato is simply genius.
Once you’ve let those flavors settle, move on to the main course. One obvious selection is the risotto cacao e pepe with parmiggiano foam. The carnaroli rice risotto is cooked perfectly, with hints of pecorino Romano and cracked black pepper joining the foam for one seriously amazing flavor profile.
Although there is nothing pedestrian about any of Mucca’s dishes, if you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, you may want to give the ravioli alla livornese a try. This locally-sourced northwest Cod ravioli dish is doused in a delicious sauce and adorned with taggiasche olives, sundried tomatoes, capers and pine nuts.
Round out an evening of delectable Italian fare with a delicious cioccolatino. The fluffiness of the Belgian chocolate cake combined with the port infusion will leave you wanting.
Maybe you’ve got something frozen on the mind. After all, who could leave an Italian restaurant without trying some delicious gelato? Try Mucca’s pistachio and chocolate chip gelato. Surely, it is the perfect way to close out an amazing meal.
Refinement Over Expansion
Having spent the last four years establishing Mucca as one of Portland’s premier Italian restaurants, one might expect Savaiano to have expansionist aspirations.
“I don’t think I want to do another Mucca,” he bluntly states. “Rather, I would like to do this one better. Opening more restaurants would take all my energy and I prefer to stick with this concept.”
Although it’s hard to pin down where Savaiano needs to make Mucca better, Portlanders should be glad to know that his efforts will continue being spent providing an amazing Italian experience in the heart of downtown Portland.
For a night of traditional Italian food set alight with creative expressionism, give Mucca Osteria a visit. They are located at 1022 SW Morrison Street in Portland, Oregon, 97205. Their hours are Monday through Saturday from 5:00pm to 10:00pm. For menu or reservation information, visit their website or give them a call at 503.227.5521
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.