March is Portland Dining Month with 90 restaurants offering $29 three-course dinners. I chose Smallwares for my second stop of the month. Chef Joanna Ware was Eater PDX Chef of the Year in 2012 and her Smallwares/Barwares outpost on NE Fremont is a perfect Friday stop for cocktails and small plates of "inauthentic Asian" delight.
The Portland Dining Month offering was prominently promoted with a separate menu on the table. Three of us chose that route while our fourth companion couldn't pass up her favorites from the regular menu.
Smallwares displays its local and sustainable suppliers prominently on a chalkboard. Offerings change through the seasons.
The small in Smallwares signals that the menu is composed of small plates, getting larger as you move down the 23-item menu. You can expect each small plate to be beautifully composed both for presentation and balancing of flavor and textures. Every dish has a dash of sweet, acid, salt, hot spice, umami, smooth and crunch. Ware honed her craft at New York’s Public and Momofuku Noodle Bar and Portland's Nostrana.
The restaurant is casual with unadorned lacquered tables and wood chairs under lanterns, plus counter seating and a few sidewalk tables. They take reservations but are drop-in friendly, especially if you drop by right after opening time. Barwares keeps swinging till 1 am and offers the full dinner menu until 10 pm. You can see hands-on Ware at work in the kitchen.
Our server was quick to ask if we wanted a libation and I chose the "O.G." Whiskey, Old Overholt Rye spiced with garam masala and served on a large ice rock with a lemon twist. The Portland Dining Month menu also came with optional wine pairings for $15, and one of our party chose those.
I couldn't imagine dining at Smallwares without having the kale, and luckily one of us ordered it and allowed us each a few bites. It is lightly battered and fried with fish sauce, then tossed with candied bacon and mint dressing. The two Smallwares newbies with us were suitably stunned by how delicious and addicting it is.
The Portland Dining Month menu included:
Scallop sashimi with den miso, yuzu kosho, pickled shallots and puffed rice. Every bite was packed with flavor and the puffed rice gave it a bit of satisfactory crunch. A vegetarian and vegan option is also available for each course.
Grilled romaine with charred lemon boquerone vinaigrette, avocado, nori croutons and kochu karu. This grilled salad was excellent.
Braised pork shoulder with squash puree, roasted mushrooms, smoked honey and Chinese mustard. Simply wonderful, with a great punch of flavor from each element with each bite. The pork was fork-tender, although they provided a proper cutting knife.
Two of us decided not to pass up a dessert addition. I had the Green tea tiramisu, a fun variation that was great.
Smallwares is open daily for dinner 5 pm - 10 pm and Barwares is open until 1 am. I'm looking forward to a repeat visit by Portland Food Adventures, planned for May 15, 2014. We last had an adventure at Smallwares in July, 2012 and it was a great romp through most of the menu.
Previous Portland Dining Month Reviews: Ración