Kooroush Shearan – small plates, BIG TASTE

Photograph by Maxwell DeYoung

Kooroush Shearan, owner of Piattino (1140 NW Everett Street) is a world traveler who has had a lifelong relationship with food. The Iranian-born restaurateur has a passion for flavor, texture and ambiance that overflows in the lovely Pearl District Italian eatery. Guests are made to instantly feel welcome as they are greeted by the warm staff and led to a bigleaf maple burl table set with a water carafe containing a sprig of mint. The natural wood walls are lined with bottles of wine and stacks of wood for the pizza oven. Don’t forget to look up at the gorgeous patterned steel ceiling!

The real adventure at Piattino is the menu. Nearly everything is made from scratch in-house — handmade pasta, sauces, ragus and even the bread. Each gnocchi is hand-rolled on a traditional gnocchi board.

Begin your meal with a starter like Steak Carpaccio, Ribollita (Tuscan Minestrone) or Insalata Piattino (braised Campari tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and pistachio pesto). Or create a Design-Your-Own Charcuterie Board, selecting the meats and cheeses that you would like in the amount you prefer. There’s is Gorgonzola and Mascarpone, but have you tried Taleggio, Veigadarte or Cana de Oveja? And you may have already tried Prosciutto and Salumi already, but have you had Bresaola (air-dried, salted beef) or Rosette de Lyon? The presentation of these platters is truly beautiful.

For the entrée portion of the meal, there are the famous wood-fired artisan pizzas, with the traditional Margherita being joined by colorful choices like Capra Nera (goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella, chile, braised leeks, garlic, roasted onions, pancetta, arugula and black truffle oil). There is also Braised Lamb Shank, Wood Fired Roasted Half Hen and succulent House Meatballs (with house-made spaghetti, if you wish). The Manzo Manicotti is something truly special. They are filled with braised beef cheek – the tastiest cut – according to Kooroush, which has been marinated and cooked for hours in herbs and spices until it is unbelievably tender and flavorful.

As your meal is winding to a close, there are lovely house made desserts, like Tiramisu, Pear and Goat Cheese- cake and Brioche Pudding. According to Kooroush, your meal at Piattino will be an event you will want to linger over, perhaps with a glass of wine, savoring the attention to detail with which it was prepared.

The love that Kooroush has for all things gastronomic is evident not only in the memorable experience of dining at Piattino, but also in the motto proudly displayed on the menu: “Non si può pensare bene e dormire bene se non si ha mangiato bene.”—”One cannot think well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well.”

Is it true you have an extensive background as a restaurateur, yes?

Yes! I have owned 16 food businesses in my life. Right now I operate two restaurants, Piattino and Shiraz, which is in the Pearl area. Shiraz is probably the smallest restaurant in the Portland Metro area! It is only 500 square feet. But it is a full restaurant—we have all of the equipment that larger restaurants have, and we can make anything you wish.

I have been in the food business since 1977. The first venture I had back home in Iran was created by myself and a friend of mine who now lives in Orange County, California. We opened a commercial kitchen in Tehran and started making pizzas, which we sold in supermarkets all across the city. My second venture was before the Iranian revolution. We had a small factory and a commercial kitchen where we produced potato chips. During the revolution in 1979, I moved to Dubai, where I opened my first restaurant. It was a fast food Mediterranean joint. We had different kinds of kebabs, and sandwiches and gyros (shawarma). That was 1980 – 1982. After that I moved to Kent in England, outside London, where I had ten restaurants at a time.

And you worked with your own hands to build the interior of Piattino, correct?

Yes. It took me almost two years to research and plan before I started building it. I observed other businesses and studied what customers like best, and I thought a lot about how I could make it feel calm and inviting. All of the interior walls are made from wood from a barn in Aurora, Oregon. I got an incredible deal—they gave me the wood for free as long as I could remove it. The barn is from the late 1800s, probably from some of the first people to move to Oregon.

I am a very detail-oriented person. My wife and I bought a home in August 2007, and it took us nearly three years to build and update it. We moved in at the beginning of 2010. We had another house we lived in during that time. I would go to the new house after being at the restaurant and work on it until 11:00 p.m. or midnight each night, as well as weekends. We did good! We have lots of nice woods, and the color scheme is very nice. We have a lovely back yard with outdoor seating, and, of course, a wood fire oven for cooking pizzas! I enjoy having friends and family over to enjoy food on the weekends.

What inspired you to cook?

From the early part of my life I always had a passion for cooking and have always enjoying cooking. It was in my blood.

Piattino’s dishes are all so colorful and beautiful! How do you select your ingredients?

Any ingredient I may want to purchase I have to see in person. And I always choose the best and freshest, regardless of the price.

What does Piattino mean?

“Small plate!”

How would you describe Piattino’s bar program?

We have a full bar, but the emphasis is on excellent wines. I really enjoy Nebbiolo and Chianti Riserva from a small vine- yard. I also love Oregon Pinot Noirs. We offer white wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Cava.

Some fun cocktails that we feature are The Tiger Lily (spiced rum, brandy, Blue Curacao, lemon juice, orange juice) or the American Beauty, a cocktail as pleasant to look at as to sip, (brandy, dry vermouth, grenadine, orange juice, and crème de menthe). We also have a Pistachio Martini, Negroni and Caipirinha.

What’s unique about Piattino’s Happy Hour?

Our pizzas are offered at a reduced price, and we have other delicious small plates, like Wood Fired Mussels, Roasted Cauliflower with peppers, pine nuts and yoghurt, Hearts of Romaine Salad with pear vinaigrette and Fettuc- cine with pistachio pesto, parmesan and a poached egg.

We also have wine, beer, cider and cock- tails. In the summer we offer a specialty cocktail called Vodka Va Limon. This drink has some similarities to a Mojito, but it is made with Vodka, and instead of sparkling water, we add some lemonade. It’s an extremely dangerous drink! It is so tasty, people will just slurp it up. Happy Hour is Tuesday to Friday from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.

What is your favorite place you have traveled?

I have seen many countries in the world! I have been to Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Lebanon, Italy, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria and Romania. My favorite is France. I love Paris!

Where would you like to travel that you haven’t yet?

I would love to go to Kenya in Africa. The only African country I have been to so far is Egypt, in 1984.

What’s your most memorable dining experience in France?

I love French cuisine but I can tell you the worst mistake I have ever made in ordering food. In 1983, I used to go to France a lot, because my mother lived in Paris. I lived in England for 16 years, so I used to go see my mother and siblings in Paris every other weekend. Can you imagine how many visits that was! Almost 25 times per year. I went to Paris and my brother-in-law invited us to go to a restaurant. The menu was in French, and I couldn’t understand it. The only thing I saw that I recognized was steak—it was Steak Tartare. My mother, sister and brother-in-law asked me if I was sure that’s what I wanted. I told them I love steak, and they laughed. When the food came, it was served under a metal cover on a plate. When they lifted up the cover, I saw it was very red raw ground beef and a raw egg yolk with some parsley on top. I told the server, “I think you forgot to cook it!” My relatives translated for me, and the server replied that that is what Steak Tartare is. We all laughed a lot about that experience!

What do you love most about food?

Cooking it! Making people feel good with the food I have prepared. I love it when people finish everything. Maybe they stop short of licking their plate, but if they want to, that would makes me happy.