MUSICEYES & EDGE

Morso - When Comfort Meets Class

MUSICEYES & EDGE
Morso - When Comfort Meets Class
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After sitting down with owner Bob Lightman and chef Kenny Giambalvo of the recently opened Morso Café in the Pearl District, we probably could have written a bestselling book on food and travel, but there only so many hours in the day.The atmosphere is casual, comfortable and classy, which leaves you wanting to sit for hours drinking espresso -- or for some of us, trying every single gelato flavor. While indulging in two of the best salads we’ve had in a long time – a chicken salad with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, rosemary and balsamic, and a Oregon tuna salad with cannellini beans, potatoes, black olives and cherry tomatoes  – Bob and Kenny graced us with their tales of amazing meals and adventures across the world. E+E: How did Morso come to be?Bob: Kenny and I knew each other for a while. When he was the Chef at Bluehour I would come in and see him and he would come in and get gelato. Then a little while ago we ran into each other downtown and started chatting. We were both looking for our next ventures and here we are.Morso is Italian and New York-inspired but it’s a Portland place. In my experience, I’ve found people in Portland want a comfortable casual fun place to go with great food, where there is good value, chef-driven delicious food but you don’t have to pay an arm and leg for it. We feel that we are in an area that isn’t well represented. We want to educate our customers and allow Morso to be a full service restaurant that isn’t full service.E+E: We love the wall images. Where do we get them?Bob: It’s actually custom illustration we had commissioned. The sketches are of Florence.E+E: We know Kenny is Italian, but do you have any Italian roots or background?Bob:  I love that place so much. I think my parents have been lying to me, there has to be Italian somewhere.E+E: Kenny, you’re originally from New York. What’s the biggest difference about working in Portland?Kenny: New Yorkers do everything with so much intensity. Everything is very serious, someone shopping is serious, people walking to the subway are serious. Portland isn’t slow but the volume is definitely turned down a bit here.E+E: What’s your favorite thing about Portland?Bob:  The food and wine scene and how accessible it is. There are obviously other places that have great food and wine, but it’s either hard to get there or you have to wait in line for hours once you are there. In Portland, you can drive 40 minutes and you’re in Burgundy – the wines are just as good and the scenes are just as good. You can walk into the best restaurants in Portland, actually get a seat and have the best meal ever, whereas in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or San Francisco, it won’t happen.Kenny: The talent is here and certainly the passion and the drive is here. Before when I spoke about New York being intense, well, Portland is intense too in the way people are just as passionate about what they’re doing. It’s just how it translates to the guests’ experience is much more relaxed. E+E: Your website states you are Simple Food Reimagined. Want to elaborate?Kenny: Reimagined because it’s not reinvented. It’s reimagined by influences of our travels and all the countries we have been fortunate enough to visit and taste the food there.Bob: Kenny has been in fine dining making the best food in the world on a beautiful white table cloth experience and we thought, “So how do you reimagine that experience into a sandwich and a salad bowl?” We are taking all those ideas in terms of combinations of flavors and food handling but making it accessible.Kenny: Here’s a good example. I had a dish in Naples that I can still taste in my head. It was spaghetti with sea urchin, tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and parsley. It was so simple but the sea urchin was straight off the boat that morning and that afternoon it was being served. When the waiter came over and asked what I wanted for dessert, I asked for that spaghetti. It was simple but so perfect in the combination. In reality there was nothing simple about what the chef did, because if he had over cooked anything, used the wrong olive oil or didn’t chop fresh parsley, it would have been ruined. There is nothing we as chefs don’t consider. We put thought into everything.E+E: *Mouth currently watering* Apart from Italy, what is your favorite place to visit?Bob: I love New York. I can’t wait to be there tomorrow.Kenny: The obvious would be almost anywhere in France, because of the experiences I’ve had there, but I also just love Mexico. I love the food, the people – and it’s truly unfortunate what is happening in Mexico. You go and there is just beautiful water, hot weather, you’re drinking amazing tequila, the food comes out and it is just so fresh, so bright and the flavors can’t be beat. Mexican cuisine is so unique, it’s not Spanish, it’s not South American – it is Mexican and so special.Bob: Oh yeah, I forgot about France.E+E: Do you have a go-to comfort food?Kenny: Pasta. Growing up we had pasta at least three times a week if not four times. Every Sunday, I remember waking up and smelling my grandmother cooking the sauce and of course the next day we would eat the leftover sauce. My Italian grandmother married my grandfather who was Romanian, so there is Jewish influence as well. Everything that happens in either the Italian or Jewish home is in the kitchen, so it was always all about food.Bob: If people just ate together, there would be no wars. You would get opposing sides together over a good meal and good wine and how could you fight?Kenny: It’s like the movie Babette’s Feast.Bob: Or Big Night!While we indulged even further with the ridiculously creamy strawberry and vanilla gelato, we didn’t want the stories to end. But these are busy men and they have cafe to run.  E+E: Any last words?Kenny: It’s definitely a labor of love. You can’t do this if you don’t love it.Bob: You have to love food and love people. Morso Cafe7291 SW Bridgeport RdPortland, OR 97224Website Facebook