New on the Portland food scene is Portland’s only Sicilian restaurant, Bellino Trattoria Siciliana (Bellino). I had the pleasure of traveling via Portland Streetcar one balmy evening to The Pearl District, walking a block from the stop and finding myself in… Sicily!
Under the bright flag with the Trinacria design, the official symbol that appears on the flag of Sicily, diners sat at outdoor bistro tables. The three-legged emblem is the mythological symbol that represents the three corners of Sicily. And, as waiters emerged from the restaurant carrying amazing looking cuisine, I felt as though I must be in one of those corners.
We entered the tastefully decorated restaurant, housed in a historic building. On the walls were more reminders of Sicily and, mixed in with the new, were such touches as pews curated from Saint Andrew Catholic Church on NE Alberta and nouveau-vintage light fixtures.
We were welcomed by the friendly wait staff and by Chef/Owner Francesco Inguaggiato himself. Born in Palermo, Sicily’s capital city, Inguaggiato recently moved his family to bring authentic Sicilian cuisine to Portland.
This evening my focus was on the food and some surprising wine pairings from Planeta Winery, a 20-year-old family-owned winery based in Sicily. Everything was planned to be authentic down to the visit from sommelier Penny Murray, the brand ambassador and export director for Planeta Winery, who traveled from Palermo to pour and discuss Planeta wines.
This was a special wine dinner yet much of the food and wine is on Chef Inguaggiato’s regular dinner or lunch menu. So our experience that evening was certainly representative of a meal at any time at Bellino.
What I found out that evening is that Chef Inguaggiato works with as much local and sustainable product, produce and protein as possible including partnerships with Corfini Gourmet, Nikky USA, Charlie’s Produce, Newman’s Fish (which also provides seafood from the Mediterranean), and Caffé Umbria, among his many local purveyors. Bringing wine directly from Sicily, Bellino offers an extensive collection of Italian wines, a combination of local Portland and Italian beer, and a full bar. He told me of an elderly man who came in to the restaurant as he was preparing to open, with some amazing olive oils. The oils were quickly added to his ingredients.
So with local ingredients, Sicilian recipes, choice foods and proteins, and Italian wines, Chef Inguaggiato and his crew worked magic with each dish. New to Sicilian food, I developed an appreciation for the fresh seafood, delicate tomato sauces and creative use of herbs and spices.
My favorite of the evening, and a dish I continue to rave about, was the Secondi course, Spiedini di Pesce Spada. The perfectly cooked swordfish skewered with rosemary, surrounded by summer squash, delicate fingerling potatoes and seasonal vegetables was the best I had ever tasted. If this was Sicilian food, I was a convert. If this was what I would find at Bellino, I would be returning for certain.
The courses continued with surprises such as a delicious kale and potato dish, all paired perfectly with Planeta wines. Planeta wines, by the way, are from four different wine-growing regions in Sicily. But what I admired about them was their perfect balance. No wine seemed strong in either acidity or sweetness. No one element of the wine was overpowering. I’ll order one of their wines at my next visit to Bellino and I’ll look for the wine in a local shop. I hear that they are available in some New Seasons stores.
At the end, I succumbed to Torte di ciocollato i menta, a chocolate and mint torte. It was served with a sweet, but not too sweet, 2010 Planeta Passito di Noto, made with moscato bianco. It was a wonderful end to my short, yet memorable, visit to Sicily.
You, too, can travel to Sicily, for an afternoon, or an evening. Bellino is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and for dinner.
1230 NW Hoyt Street, Portland, OR 97209
Lunch (Tues – Sat): 11 AM – 3:00 PM
Dinner (Tues – Thurs): 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Dinner (Fri & Sat): 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Phone: (503) 208-2992
See also: Sicily in PDX – Planeta Wine Dinner at Bellino Trattoria Siciliana
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.