February 2, 2008

Autentica (5507 NE 30th)

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The last time my brother Michael was in town he wanted to go to Autentica. We didn't go then, but I'm sure he would like it. I read a review of it that said that it is a pretty bold move to name a restaurant Autentica unless it really is authentic.

My brother leads a pretty authentic life. He has grown up, marinated in a religious household, to create a life that reflects some of his upbringing, some of his new found beliefs and discovery of new perspectives. He doesn't mince words, he says what he thinks, no matter who he is around. Sometimes it is awkward. But mostly it is refreshing because with him, there is no guessing. I love it when he shows up at my parties, which are mostly filled with conservatively dressed conservatives, with a few edges of liberalism showing here and there. He will just walk in, wearing his Carhartts, unshaven, sometimes unshowered and almost always barefoot. The people who don't know him might be a bit alarmed when he walks in. But he will engage everyone in the most intriguing conversations and storytelling within minutes, putting even the most uncomfortable person at ease.

Michael lives his life doing what he truly wants to do. Most of the time that involves traveling to exciting and sometimes dangerous places. He was mugged in Romania and beat up pretty badly. He spent some time with some shepherds in the Georgian mountains, slept under olive trees in Greece and hitchiked down the coast of Mexico. He's met all kinds of people, rich, poor, generous, needy, scarred, traumatized, sick and well. He catalogues them in his head and in journals - so many characters.

He is macho and careless, taking unnecessary risks, trying to prove points, but also loving and caring, helping people out when they need a hand. On Thanksgiving Day, my nephews had planned to re-create The Music Man for us one night. Then, stricken by a sudden bout of shyness, they needed a little help. Michael and my sister Chelsea jumped in and played a part in their little play, singing loudly 76 Trombones, marching around the living room until the little boys were laughing and going along with them. He will give money to a stranger on the street, no questions asked. He'll try to make you happy when you are crying. It's all part of who he is.

He's in Africa now, building things, meeting people. He writes and calls on occasion, but we never know for sure how long it will be until we hear from him again. Sometimes I think he is a little homesick, and sometimes I think he is supremely happy. He always remembers to say I love you to each person in the family when he talks to us or writes.

Authenticity is multifaceted with layers of complexity shining through. It's the childhood religion, the Music Man and interacting with people at their level, the risk-taking, the hitchhiking and the adventures, the homesickness and the I love yous. It's the chemical reaction of you and all of your combined experiences. And it's living your life without trying to change the reaction; living life unashamedly.

The catfish steak I had at Autentica was multi-layered flavor - soft, sweet, succulent flesh falling off the bones, covered in peppery tomatillo salsa, flavored with bay leaves. It was warm, spicy, beautiful and tender. I took a long time to eat it - I wanted it to go on forever. My friend had Pazole - a Mexican soup with hominy and pork, with avocado, oregano and radishes on the side. I tasted it at the beginning and it was hot and soupy and delicious. Then after all the additions of the sides and letting it sit for a few minutes, it's flavor enhanced and deepened, it tasted homier and more complex.

I don't know if the food at Autentica is authentic to Mexico or not, but I do know that it is authentic to Chef Oswaldo Bibiano - the food is clearly a result of not just his background of growing up in Mexico, but also his experiences as a chef in some of Portland's best restaurants and some pretty deep love for what he is doing. I could taste it. That's authentic enough for me.
**Note: the queso fundido with chorizo rocks.

Autentica on Urbanspoon


brenda said...

Yum! Thanks for sharing the tribute to your brother. Very cool.

Hey, It's Ansley said...

This brought a tear to my eye. I hope Michael reads it. I've only met him once or twice but everything you said was true. He was super-easy to talk with and I felt like he didn't notice anyone else in the room but me. Plus I think your dad was making doughnuts, which always helps me feel cozy and loved.

The Guilty Carnivore said...

Your review about Autentica doesn't even mention the the food until approximately I was about 70% of the way in...yet having been to Autentica I think you've captured the essence nicely.

Marianne said...

Beautiful review of food and the person you shared it with.