I dine out dangerously frequently; and in Portland, a city overflowing with unique dining concepts translated into brick and mortar (or mobile) establishments it can be difficult to pinpoint a select few that stick out.
Johanna Wares’ conjoined Smallwares and Barwares located on NE Fremont and 46th is such an establishment. The ambiance of both spaces are modern, inviting, and allow the late summer sunlight to add some reflective sparkle to your sake.
The cuisine is described as ‘Inauthentic Asian,’ a thesaurus entry for ‘Fusion’ if you will; a list of small plates highlighting seasonal vegetables and local meats accented by innovative ingredients indicative of the Far East such as miso and hijiki.
Also on the plus side- they are open until 2am and located within 1-6 blocks from two of the houses I hang out at the most in NE.
Anne and I tried Smallwares on a Tuesday several weeks back. It was a lukewarm summer evening and thankfully the residential location comes without a stressful struggle for parking. As is the usual, we each started with a libation in the form of garam masala-infused old fashions:
Once we had our spice-tinged old fashions in hand, it was time to make the most difficult decision of the evening:
We decided to strive for a balance- some vegetables, some fried fare, and of course some quality protein
I can earnestly say that this is the most phenomenal asparagus dish I have ever had the pleasure of indulging in. The combination of textures and flavours is an unexpected twist of salty/saucy/sweet/nutty
This was one of the nightly specials which is why I cannot reckon the other ingredients. It was alright; a rather anticlimactic follow to the asparagus and was a tad too liquidy in my opinion without a proper accroutement to soak up the egg yolk
Standard bar food (by Portland standards), it did the trick at appeasing the libation-induced need for something fatty and fried. It is not unique by any means, but comforting and appeasing- a vital component of any meal in my humble opinion
The perfect finale; everything about this dish was phenomenal from the medium rare searing of the steak to the sweet vinegary crunch of he pear and the creamy luscious tofu based cream. It was so good in fact that I was a tad forlorn that I had to split it with Anne; in hindsight I am actually wondering what our reason for not having ordered dessert was
Smallwares is a great place to go on a date as long as whoever you’re with is not a fussy eater. It is not however such a good place to go if you are in a hurry as each dish is brought out one at a time, meant to be consumed in a procession as opposed to encouraging the clouding of flavours that is bound to ensue when you have four or five options at the table at once.
Fast forward several days; Anne and I find ourselves at another classy soiree at David’s house (which may I mention is only a few blocks from the Wares). It was a Sunday back in June, a day in which I had intended to spend the day in my bathrobe having a solo Girls marathon as the prior night had been a late one landing me home somewhere in the vicinity of 4am. I had brunched with my parents, passed out for two consecutive naps, and watched some HBO. David had sent me a text to come over and join our friend Erika’s goodbye soiree. I proceeded to ignore it and buffer another episode of Girls. Then, not five minutes later I got a text from Anne simply reading, “You should come here, you’re really missing out on some great root vegetables.”
And that’s what it took. I got out of bed, found a pair of citizens cut offs, took the initiative to wipe off the prior night’s eyeliner and spritzed some Coco Mademoiselle and was out the door in five minutes and back up in NE within twenty. You see, David makes phenomenal roasted root vegetables. There were also some artisanal cheeses from Steve’s cheese shop and some of my friend’s Kat’s phenomenal red velvet cake balls.
Once at the soiree, one of us had the brilliant idea of heading down the street to Barwares (now, you see where I am going with this story?):
I wish I could tell you what we each got; mine (the far left) was heavily accented with cardamom and absolutely delightful whereas Anne’s had some freshly strained strawberries (avec gin, perhaps?) and David’s may or may not have been the same garam masala old fashioned that Anne and I indulged on the prior Tuesday
It was also necessary to order a couple of accompaniments:
Delicious. David and I split the egg.
Pickled radish, asparagus, and kimchi- this was something like $1 or $2
We kicked it at Barwares for a good hour or two, and my homie Kyle who lives down the block even came over to say hey and then we called it the perfect conclusion to a summer weekend
What is your favourite unconventional cuisine?
Bar food of choice?