The one medium-sized room that is Porcino is about as spare as a restaurant can be, with no hint of color: black chairs, white tablecloths and gray (definitely not inelegant gray) walls. The photos on the wall, of the restaurant’s construction, are black and white too; the tables are lined up square. Look up, though, and you’ll see suspended from above a variety of stars and graceful hanging fixtures that look like white light, woven.
The menu is also sophisticated, though not as minimal as the decor. You can’t call a salad that includes goat-cheese croutons rolled with nuts and herbs and fried vegetable chips “spare.”
The bill of fare owes something to Italian cuisine: The chef/owner’s name is Gino Parco, and there is a pasta section on the menu. But Parco casts a wider net, with such dishes as spring rolls with gingered slaw and mustard-plum sauce or pork chop with apple compote and root vegetables. I don’t care what he calls his cuisine as long as I get some of it.
Dinner begins with bread and olives and a little pot of lemon-infused olive oil with orange zest. This was so good that I tended to fill up too much on bread, given the assignment that lay ahead (with Mom’s “don’t spoil your dinner!” ringing in my ears). If you want more bread-type starters, choose among warm pita with hummus and baba ghanoush; grilled flat bread with olive tapenade, baked garlic and feta; and bruschetta. I loved the tapenade dish on an earlier visit to Porcino, in 1997 at their old location (they moved last year), and I don’t even like olives.
Salads are mostly of the well-constructed-on-the-plate variety, though you can get a simple greens and vinaigrette. I tried spinach leaves with warm roasted winter squash and caramelized apples and, if that wasn’t enough, curls of white cheddar. Yes. For blue cheese lovers, an equally first-rate starter is spinach leaves with pears and glazed pecans.
Starters are ample by reasonable standards, so share if you don’t want to spoil your dinner. Parco takes the traditional brunch combo of smoked salmon with red onions and cream cheese, substitutes sour cream, and sets it all atop a huge, light potato pancake. This may sound heavy, but it’s not; it’s godly.
Sweet, rich hazelnuts are one of the best varieties of nuts; toasted, they are perfect with six butternut squash ravioli in a buttery sauce. A “tower” of vegetables (more like a Quonset hut, said my companion) included some smoky portobello better than any I’ve eaten elsewhere.
For entrées, I cannot rave enough about the osso buco or the duck confit. Both the tender veal and the risotto that come with it are almost too rich, the risotto creamy and dense. And you get a little spoon to scoop the marrow out of the shank. Best not to imagine the butter and stock that went into this dish.
Talk about rich: Duck confit is made by slowly cooking the bird in its own fat — and ducks carry a lot of fat. Parco sets off the deep, opulent duck flavor with tart red cabbage that melts in the mouth.
Braised lamb shank comes with a tomato-mint jam that is anything but a cliché. I wasn’t quite as happy with my tagliatelle with shrimp, mussels and cream — it was a little fishy. And the chocolate-amaretto tartuffo was pretty ordinary. I should have stuck with the crème brûlée I liked so much in 1997, though it’s now in a cappuccino version.
What else? Hand towels in the restrooms are fluffy white washcloths. The bar features fancy martinis and big wide-bodied stools for the modern wide-bodied North American. Fancy coffees abound too. Chef Parco has achieved the right balance in the kitchen: He’s showing off but he’s not grandstanding.
To find Porcino, go straight out Huron Church Road from the bridge, about four and a half miles. Make a right on Cabana and then a right on Dougall, and it’s right there in the strip mall. No smoking, open every night.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.