Spanish Class

A culinary gem in Barcelona has opened a stunning spinoff in the Pearl.

SOMETIMES THE PERFECT justification for a special-occasion dinner is simply the eagerly anticipated launch of the very restaurant you’ve selected. Such is the case with Can Font (1015 NW Northrup St, 503-224-3911), which threw open its doors in June, much to the delight of an increasingly curious public intrigued that this Michelin-recognized establishment outside Barcelona had chosen Portland—and specifically the ground floor of the Pearl’s opulent Cosmopolitan condo tower—as the location of its first offshoot.

Indeed, Can Font has been packed since day one. Fans have lauded the artfully plated contemporary Spanish fare as well as the informed, obliging service. The well-trained staff will happily explain the differences among the three paella options (tip: the fideuà version, with delicate, feathery pasta noodles instead of rice, is sublime) or recommend just the right bottle of Spanish albariño to pair with that plate of Catalan vegetables and tuna belly.

The setting feels special, too—a high-ceilinged, contemporary dining room with an arresting black-and-white photo of Gaudí’s iconic Barcelona masterpiece Casa Milà covering an entire wall. Patrons can entertain themselves by gazing through the high windows at passersby or into the open kitchen, where they’ll also spy a rather tantalizing-looking leg of cured Ibérico pork mounted on the counter.

Can Font Chef Josep Vidal hadn’t initially thought of Oregon for his expansion into North America. “First he was looking in several other states, but he fell in love with Portland,” says managing partner Vladimir Zaharchook. “In part because of the availability of great ingredients, especially seafood.” Seeking investors, Vidal met Zaharchook, a longtime local realtor. “I’d always had an idea to open a restaurant when I retired,” he says. “I went to his restaurant outside Barcelona. And when I tried his food, I was convinced.” He adds that they began the project three years ago, but it took them a while to find the right space. “When I saw the Cosmopolitan, I immediately knew we had our location.”

Vidal has kept faithful to the culinary approach of his original restaurant, albeit presenting a greatly pared-down menu. “He’s serving the exact same food, but with what’s available locally,” says Zaharchook, adding that he’s particularly fond of the decadent canelons trufats, canneloni stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, foie gras, black truffle, Parmesan, and Emmental cheese. The aforementioned paella—especially the black squid-ink variety, is not surprisingly a huge hit, as is the selection of cured Ibérico meats, the gazpacho with seared scallop, and duck-leg confit and breast with pear, port, and demi-infused orange.

Zaharchook points out that while the restaurant strongly recommends reservations—available through Open Table or by phone—Can Font accommodates walk-ins whenever possible. You can even dine from the full menu at the cozy bar, where regulars often stop by for a glass of wine or one of the well-crafted cocktails, which were developed by Vidal’s nephew, Josep Marti, a well-known Barcelona bartender. Specialties include the tartly refreshing mojito Silvestre with rum, strawberries, raspberries, and mint, and the mellow Tequichelo with tequila, vodka, ginger, and vanilla. Sangria, available tinta with red wine or blanca with bubbly cava, is another house favorite.

Interestingly, the original Can Font is literally a special-occasion restaurant—the 750-seat venue was designed with grand events—weddings, birthdays—in mind. Portland’s 60-seat version feels minuscule by comparison, but it’s every bit as much a gem for celebrating a momentous event, or even just a romantic night out on the town. – Andrew Collins | Photos by John Valls