By Katie Acheff
It was a perfect warm summer evening that started off the 20th edition of Portland Food Adventures.This round brought us adventurers tosmallwares, the creation of chef Johanna Ware who made her mark in the Portland culinary world at Nostrana. The place quickly filled up with our crew as we got the chance to check out the décor and mingle.
They started things off quickly with a light, fruity cocktail of kaffir lime leaf gin and marionberry shrub, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres. Carlsbad oysters with fish sauce and cilantro, and a 6-minute egg with Chinese mustard began our seven course tasting of Johanna’s “inauthentic Asian cuisine”.
The gin and marionberry cocktail was a perfect summer drink, and I took a second to play with the awesome lighting the décor provided. With a sort of modern-Asian inspired interior design, the space itself is fresh, contemporary and full of light. I particularly was fond of the simple ball lanterns and chic black, white and red color scheme. The red shade hung in front of the large front windows reflected light beautifully around the room.
As everyone sat down we got our first wine pairing, which of course led to a chorus of ‘cheers’ around the tables. This wine was a Monmousseau dry pink sparkling wine that had more of that refreshing summer quality and led us to our second course, a salmon tartare with rice, crème fraiche, poppy seed and chive.
We finished up the first course and our host, Chris Angelus, took this opportunity to welcome us and give a little background of Johanna Ware before she came out. He talked a bit about her growing up making all sorts of inventive dishes since she was very young, and the innovation in her plates that night definitely reflected an interest in fusion.
Moving on to our third course, a chilled dashi, chicken jus, uni, mushroom and lemon balm dish paired with Eiko Fuji Honkara super dry sake. These dishes were all a little out of my normal palette, but I enjoyed the opportunity to get a little out of my comfort zone and try something new. My tablemates and I reflected on the texture being particularly interesting here.
Next up Johanna came out to talk with us a bit. She mentioned not having spoken in front of a large group of people before, but still gave us all a nice history of herself and how she ended up opening smallwares, before rushing back into the kitchen. One of the cool parts of smallwares is the open kitchen behind the bar, so she kept a strong presence throughout the night.
And then it was on to the fourth course, which were 4 separate dishes served ‘family style’. My tablemates were kind enough to let me snap a few pictures before diving in. These included a beet salad, fried kale, zucchini panzanella, and grilled porcini mushrooms, paired with a Hubert Veneau pinot noir rose wine.
This time of night is always about my favorite with the Portland Food Adventures, after we’ve been served a few courses and the drinks are flowing, the room opens up for great conversation and lots of smiling faces. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and share a really unique culinary experience, getting to be so immersed first hand in some of the best chef’s kitchens around Portland.
Coming up on the 5th course, a pork skin ragu with pickled fennel and rice cakes, a very hearty dish paired with a local wheat microbew.
Soon after we got our 6th course, hanger steak, miso, fermented black bean, apricot and basil paired with a Mallorcan wine.
As our night began to wrap up, Chris and Johanna talked a bit about the gift cards they picked out for us this time. We were in for quite the treat, as they included a free pint at Salt & Straw, as well as certificates for barwares, the bar in the back of smallwares, along with Bunk Bar, and Random Order Coffeehouse & Bakery.
One of the creators of a new Portland foodie app called TablesUp also talked a bit about their free new app that shows you live wait times of local restaurants, not a bad idea for many of the attendees. We were also served our final course, Hook’s ‘little boy blue’ sheep’s milk blue cheese from Mineral Point, WI, in a black pepper honey and paired with Hakutsuru ‘Sayuri’ creamy sweet nigori sake. What a finale!
And with a few rounds of applause for our great chef, staff and adventurers, one of my favorite PFA’s came to a close. I took a minute to explore barwares’ swanky lounge, which is someplace I look forward to returning to with my gift certificate.
Thanks to Johanna Wares, Chris Angelus, the gracious smallwares staff and all the Portland Food Adventurers for another amazing night! Stay tuned for next month as PFA takes on Yakuza!