Bastas on NW 21st used to be a Tastee-Freeze, but if it weren’t for the steep angular roof you’d never know it. A huge salt water aquarium greets you just inside the front door. The walls are painted in earth tones and large heavy drapes soften the space. There is a small outdoor area for alfresco dining. A warm comfortable feel permeates the restaurant.
Native Italian Marco Frattaroli is passionate about food from his land and it shows. The vinegar, bread, and sausage used in the many recipes are made on premises. They also infuse some of their own liqueurs which allows them to get the taste of their cocktails just the way they want it.
About a third of the entrée menu is based on pasta. For those watching carbs, options include quite a bit of seafood, steak, lamb chops, chicken breast, cioppino, and a vegetarian option of grilled vegetables, oyster mushrooms served with mozzarella and grilled polenta. Prices run between $13-$19.00.
Salads were nothing special. The Caesar proves that size isn’t everything. While it was huge, the entire thing had an almost dry texture, and only an average dressing ($9.00). The chopped salad was thinly sliced romaine, fennel, and radicchio tossed with salty pecorino and typical oil & vinegar dressing ($6.00).
A special of 2-inch raviolis with wild boar was a little disappointing in that it seemed like just dense little packages stuffed with rich “pork” in red wine and tomato sauce and cost $17.
The calamari fritti was fresh, but had no spark and seemed almost rubbery. The bland salsa verde dipping sauce was a poor match. This is disappointing as there is much good calamari in Portland ($6.00). Beef Carpaccio was excellent; a large plate of thinly sliced beef, perfectly seasoned ($7.00). Arancini (saffron rice balls) are from the Island of Sicily. Here they are huge, the size of oranges. Stuffed with zucchini, eggplant and fresh mozzarella, they were really excellent. I could be happy making a meal out of a couple of these and a salad ($7.00). They may be the best in town.
A recent special of tagliatta made with Painted Hills hanger steak, marinated with “Tuscan pestino” served with sautéed snow pea tips and potatoes was satisfying. The steak had great flavor and was served just as I ordered ($18.00). Pollo con salvia, chicken breast pieces sautéed with cream, sage, garlic, and white wine over penne was unimpressive but filling. I don’t think I would order it again ($14.00). The pollo crocante, however, was a winner: a huge piece of chicken with an incredible crackling skin, flavored with rosemary salt. This was a terrific dish! ($14.00) Finally, Uncle Vittorio’s Ragout, rigatoni in a sauce of baby back rib meat braised in tomato and vegetables was bright and delicious ($13.00).
I like the atmosphere and the excellent staff at Bastas and have been coming here off and on for years. The food has varied wildly during that time depending on who was in the kitchen, but it seems to be having a bit of an upswing. Overall it has its hits and misses, but if you pick carefully you can have a good meal here. It seems to be quite a first date place – it is fun to watch the new couples testing the water over dinner.
The wine list is extensive and can include some real finds. Many good Italian reds are available. Since I was reviewing two bakeries at the same time I was visiting here, I will admit I have not had the desserts. They are pretty much what you would expect from an Italian restaurant and look appealing.