April of last year I had brunch at Pitxi in Sandy, Oregon, and was completely blown away. The soufflé was incredible, as was a dish featuring a rolled, cigar-shaped, stuffed chicken breast. I may not remember exactly how it was prepared, but it was incredibly tender and explosively flavorful. Also, there were the truffle shavings, champagne cocktails, and a towering slice of potato pie. I didn’t manage to get back to Pitxi (pronounced pea-chee) before they closed late in 2009, but that meal has remained vivid in my mind.
So, you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Pitxi would be re-opening in North Portland this spring. Details (so many details) after the jump.
I learned about Pitxi from an odd group of particularly rambunctious foodies at the Happy Valley New Season’s Market. After discovering the joint they quickly became regulars and vociferous supporters, spreading the punk rock, country-hopping legend of the pair who ran the place: Ania Adamaszek in the front of house and Edward Martinez in the kitchen. It was an odd tale, and one I couldn’t confirm until talking to Adamaszek today. Apparently it’s all true, and more interesting than I’d thought.
Martinez and Adamaszek were members of a punk rock group called The Skabs. Martinez would often cook for the band.
“It’s through Edward that I learned about food, and learned about flavors,” Admaszek says. “It was completely natural ecstasy.”
The Skabs broke up in 2001, shortly after a tour that took them through Portland. After attempts to change her life’s direction Adamaszek decided what she’d really like to do is open up a restaurant with Martinez. That meant getting restaurant experience. After composing a letter to Thomas Keller, she landed a job in his newly opened Per Se.
According to Adamaszek, Martinez learned some of his craft at the French Culinary Institute in New York, but developed his technique after two years spent working in restaurants and on farms in France. He did eventually return to New York where he spent time in the kitchen of the well-reviewed Atelier.
Adamaszek wasn’t immune to her own wanderlust and after a stint in Spain, she found herself working in a restaurant in France’s Basque country where the crew gave her the nickname “Pitxi,” a term of endearment for children that translates to "jewel".
Eventually Adamaszek and Martinez made the trek to Oregon where they took over an old dive bar in Sandy, which they didn’t think was too out of the way for Portlanders. Unfortunately, as they did business, Adamaszek says, she was always hearing “if only you were in Portland.”
Well, now they are. The plan for the new Pitxi, (located in the space previously occupied by Café Cubano) is to split it between a 30-seat wine bar area, with accompanying bar menu, and a 30 seat dining room. The menu is still in development but will remain consistent with the previous location: a focus on seasonal, local cuisine inspired by Martinez’s French technique and a hefty dose of influences ranging from Native American to Basque.
Adamaszek will be taking care of the front of house. She’ll continue the tradition of keeping “foreign” words off the menu, leaving patrons to decode items like air pockets (soufflé), pasta pillows (ravioli), and duck loaf (pate).
It’s a bit odd but “It’s playful,” says Adamaszek. “And at the same time it doesn’t put expectations on the food. People have assumptions about what things are supposed to be, and sometimes they don’t end up that way.” Which gives them more freedom in their cuisine, she explains.
I’m looking forward to tasting what that freedom will bring.