Last night we took Samuel with one of his best friends Joshua, and his two daddies to PORTABELLOS Restaurant (I forgot to ask why it is spelled "porta" rather than "porto," as the former means "pretty door," the latter "pretty seaport" or the mushroom) in Arlington at 2109 N Pollard Street (at Lee Highway just minutes from Key Bridge) and had a reasonably enjoyable time. The prices are mid-range (appetizers mostly below $10, most entrees in the high teens) and the service is pretty decent. The have a small kids menu with three options which did the trick as Samuel always seems happy with the CHICKEN TENDERS & FRIES (while these were good, they did not compare with the truffled ones at Nage two weeks before). Joshua opted for the PENNE PASTA which ingeniously came with a small bowl of both cream and red sauce and another of grated cheese to "make your own." Joshua loved his and even enjoyed sharing some of Sam's chicken!
We started with a bottle of nice light but enjoyable DOLCETTO di OVADA from LA SLINA 2005, which was one of only three Italian reds on the menu. For an Italian "bistro" this seemed to be a bit slim on the Italian side, indeed the menu while offering many pastas, is quite "American" in its concept. The brick walls are simple with the standard boring drop tile ceiling (that had some sad stains in places), and it is clearly a NEIGHBORHOOD place, and despite the mid-week vacation mode, was quite full by 7pm.
I started with a delicious WILD MUSHROOM RAVIOLI made of Shitake and Portobello mushrooms and served in a very mild LOBSTER GINGER SAUCE. Someone in the kitchen likes those 1960-70's chinese noodles (think from a LaChoy can) which decorated a number of the dishes including this. The CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP got a high rating and the FRIED CALAMARI was tender and crisp with a SWEET & SPICY CHILI Dipping Sauce. Will opted for what must be the signature PANKO CRUSTED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM with Boursin Cheese & Red Wine Sauce which was also quite yummy.
We moved on to a slightly bigger PINOT NOIR RONCIER 2002 from L. TRAMIERE et Fils with our entrees:
The CRAB CAKES were delicious (not an easy feat in DC) although the remoulade was not my favorite (a bit too tartar saucy) and the Basmati Rice was like a giant rock! The SPICED LENTILS with CRISPY TOFU, Golden Raisins, Toasted Almonds in a COCONUT CITRUS CREAM Sauce is a great vegetarian idea which sounds better than it tastes. It was a bit dry and the flavors just didn't seem to come through. The MAPLE CRUSTED SCALLOPS were a novelty and also quite delicious, probably the big winner on the menu, as my PARMESAN CRUSTED CODFISH with Cole Slaw, Crispy Potato Cake & Asparagus in a Dijon Cream Sauce was decent, but the cod was a bit hard in one small section. I very much liked the potato cake which was basically made of mashed potatoes on the inside and a bit crunchy like a latke on the outside. All I could think was that perhaps I should have opted for my other choice, the Sauteed Shrimp Provencale.
We shall never know, as while Portabello's is nice, I think we have some better real "ITALIAN" bistros around at similar prices.
Best wishes for a truly HAPPY & HEALTHY NEW YEAR, of course, full of much good food, wine and friends! One more posting this weekend for 2006!