Portland’s winter can stretch on like wet asphalt, with no discernable horizon in sight. Like the Inuit, who have numerous words for snow, we in the Pacific Northwest have a vast lexicon for rain. When I feel that underneath my layers of Gore-tex and fleece I am sprouting vestigial gills, I yearn for a place in Portland where the cement skies of winter do not loom overhead like a tenement ceiling. I yearn for food that seems to be filled with light- flavors that transport me south, across the equator to the Southern Hemisphere. For there it is summer when the light is at its most anemic here. And, like Portland in the summer, I imagine sidewalks lined with cafes. Humanity milling about. Guitar music drifting from an open door. Laughter spilling onto the street.
I grew up on Florida’s panhandle, just blocks from the ocean. In our backyard, like most others in our neighborhood, we had citrus and bananas. I spent the time I wasn’t required to be in a school room at the shoreline, fishing and mucking about in the water. Light filled every crevice. Heat radiated from every surface. Sand could be too hot to cross to make it to the tepid water of the Gulf of Mexico. Getting to the water’s edge often required literally running a gauntlet of scalding beach.
There is a part of my cellular makeup that yearns for heat, for sun, and for the fresh, “alive” flavors of summer- of my youth! The tang of a fresh fruit puree, the buttery richness of avocado, the crunch and pleasing texture of fresh vegetables are what I desire most in the doldrums of winter. The place I go to rescue me from myself is Andina, in Portland’s Pearl District.
That’s exactly where I headed recently to escape flurries of snow and the unseasonably cold winter we have had this year. A brisk walk from my truck brought me to the entrance of Andina. I opened the door to a heady blend of cinnamon and cilantro, of laughter and chatter. I slid into a booth, joining others for a meal. Looking out the plate glass window I watched light spill on bundled people tracing the steps I had just made as I dashed by minutes before. Inside the amber-hued restaurant I enjoyed the view of winter through the glass.
A round of “entradas” later, the table was overflowing with color. Every dish was a distinct study in both texture and flavor. The crunch of jicama, zing of lime, buttery yucca, briny ceviche , a sweet-tart sauce of tamarind. Each bite offered new tastes and textures and led to feeling of respite from the shades of grey outside.
This matched with a superb wine list makes Andina one of my favorite restaurants in Portland, both summer and winter. Wine director and sommelier Ken Collura has assembled a wonderful assortment of food-friendly wines from around the globe. On my most recent visit I had to see how our 2007 Amrita paired with the food on the table. Amrita’s bright citrus and lean minerality was enhanced by the food on the table and vice versa. For the price of round of entradas and a few glasses of wine everyone at the table was treated to a little bit of summer in the middle of winter.