Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eating at the Aura

Where to eat? Always an adventure. Sometimes a surprise. In Portland a great surprise.

The restaurants in Portland’s City Center are packed as Bill and I soon discovered. The noise level within them was so huge and the crowds so intense I felt like heading back to the hotel to dine on crackers and cheese in our room. But we were really hungry, so when we spotted the silver lights running vertically to the right of an unobtrusive doorway at 1022 West Burnside Street, we decided to check it out.

The Aura restaurant from the outside gives no hit of the restrained elegance within. Subdued lighting, sleek furnishings, 2 bars that glittered like crystal, and small and intimate tables, behind which a screen shimmering with subtle colors and swirling shapes. The entire ambiance of the restaurant reflected "aura:" that subtle field of luminous multicolored radiation surrounding a person and other living things.

A slender and very tall young woman wearing a hand-crocheted white dress led us to a table to the rear of the L-shaped restaurant (we learned later that her father had purchased it for her as a gift and that she felt so special when she wore it). With only a few other patrons, Aura’s had the quiet we sought; but would it have the food we wondered?

A look at the menu convinced us that Aura was a good choice. Intrigued by the appetizers on the menu, we decided to make a meal of them and asked to have them served in courses. Our waitress Danielle served each dish with such care and pleasure that we knew they had to be special.

Served with a fine Australian Shiraz, the fresh sushi crab rolls with wasabi, wilted spinach salad with pancetta and onions dressed with an exquisite balsamic vinaigrette, warm pita triangles served with roasted peppers and asparagus, humus and goat cheese, and three kinds of tiny burgers: salmon, pork, and portabella mushrooms with goat cheese delighted us. The food was delicious. So why the restaurant was so sparsely attended?

Our waitress Danielle
It was early for their usual crowd of nightclub goers, Danielle assured us, pointing to the bartenders moving into position and the members of a live band assembling behind the dance floor screen. As we talked, a friendly young man in a white coat introduced himself as chef Chad Leighton. "Such great food," we said. "This place should be packed."

Leighton replied that he hoped great food would lure a dining as well as a dancing crowd. Most people knew Aura as a place for the latter but they hoped to enhance that image. He told us that he presides over the menu offered at the popular Fish Grotto restaurant on the other side of the building as well -- both restaurants sharing ownership and kitchen.

Executive Chef Chad Leighton

We reluctantly turned down the dessert menu -- too satisfied (stuffed) with our feast of delicious appetizers. As we left the restaurant, a crowd of elegantly dressed young people had already begun to line up outside the door. Though I want to wish Aura well in drawing larger crowds, I selfishly hope they are not there the next time we return to Portland.

1 comment:

Jo said...

Sounds delicious.