Noodles Like Your Nonna’s

Whatever your age, there’s nothing like a comforting and satisfying bowl of pasta — and Grassa nails it.

If you have an Italian grandmother who spends hours making pasta from scratch and slow cooking ragu, then lucky you. If not, you can get your Italian comfort food fix at Grassa.

Admittedly the SW restaurant is in much cooler digs than your Nonna’s kitchen — there’s probably not a giant black eagle painted on her wall. It has a sleek industrial feel with high tables that give you and the littles an excellent view of the workings of the open kitchen. It’s the kind of place that you’d easily visit before you had kids. But they are surprisingly child-friendly. The hostess who took our order helpfully offered up plain buttered noodles for our 2-year-old. They also have a kids’ mac ‘n cheese, and spaghetti with meatballs and red sauce, plus super-high highchairs that bring your kids to your level at the tall tables.

But Grassa’s fare will satisfy grownup tastes, too. (The restaurant is the brainchild of Lardo’s Rick Gencarelli, and right next door to the westside outlet of the celebrated sandwich shop.) My husband ordered the mezze rigatoni – tender, tender slow-simmered pork in red sauce ($11). He pronounced it some of the best pasta in Portland — surely a rival to pricier plates at clarklewis and Nostrana. His only complaint was that he wished it were served with a hunk of bread so he could sop up every last lick of sauce.

My carbonara ($10) was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. The bowl came with sunny-side up egg nestled on top of hunks of pork belly and perfectly cooked bucatini — a kind of hollow spaghetti. I stirred the egg into the hot pasta and pecorino and it created a silky sauce.

The menu also features more adventurous pastas and mix-ins such as the squid-ink strozzapreti with Oregon albacore, tomato and Calabrian chili ($12) or tortiglioni with gyro and the traditional Greek accompaniments of feta, cucumber and mint ($12).

The servings are good-sized. And everything was well seasoned. We passed on the buttered noodles for our toddler and fed her bites of our dishes instead. She seemed more intent on coloring than eating that afternoon, but she stopped and smiled after we plopped bits of carbonara and pork into her mouth. If she had seemed hungrier, it would have been worth it to order her own meal.

We also sampled the antipasti salad ($8), which featured salami, pepperoncini, aged provolone and white beans. It was crunchy and satisfying and the perfect size for two adults to share before a meal. And we tried the veggie of the day — kabocha squash ($6) coated with buttery bread crumbs and garlic, and baked in a cast-iron skillet. Everyone at the table loved it.

Pro tip: Sunday at lunch was a great time to go. It wasn’t too busy and street parking was free and plentiful. We were in and out in 40 minutes — happy and full and easily back home for naptime.

1205 SW Washington St. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Grassapdx.com

Denise Castañon
Denise Castañon

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