Would you ever go to a restaurant that describes itself as “inauthentic”? Well, we did and it was surprisingly delicious and true to its description, “inauthentic.” Smallwares is helmed by Johanna Ware, formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar. Having never been to Momofuku anything and only read about the food and tried recipes from the cookbook, I was eager to actually get closer to tasting the Momofuku influence. The menu is divided into appetizers, small plates, and larger plates. I’m actually beginning to like this new trend restaurants are taking towards small plate offerings meant for sharing. It really gives you the chance to try more things in one sitting.
Fanny Bay Oysters fish sauce, cilantro, lime
These were some big oysters and the addition of fish sauce, slightly tempered with sugar and lime, really brought the Southeast Asian, if not Vietnamese flavors. I could have eaten 6 of these, too bad 1 order = 1 oyster!
Scallop Sashimi den miso, shallot, puffed rice
My experience with raw scallop has been pretty hit or miss. Sometimes it’s a bit too slimy and other times it has a fresh fleshy sweetness. This was definitely a hit. The preparation reminded me of nasu dengaku, or miso glazed eggplant often times served at izakaya joints. It was an ingenious creation. I could have had the whole dish to myself.
The next dishes are good for sharing.
Somen Noodles chili paste, sesame, fried egg, hijiki
I really liked this dish a lot. It had elements from so many asian noodle dishes, the Korean spiciness, the Southeast Asian punchiness, the Japanese hijiki. It was probably the most “inauthentic” dish of the night, but so darn tasty! I don’t normally like somen noodles either.
Noodle Soup pork belly, turnips, nori, chili paste
This was also an example of inauthenticity at it’s best. The noodles were sorta Chinese hand pulled style, but a little too al dente for my liking. The soup was reminiscent of udon broth. The pork was Chinese style. The dollop of chili paste brought the Southeast Asian flavor.
Oxtail Curry scotch bonnet, plantain chips, coconut
Our last bigger dish of the night was not as tasty as the last 2 but very filling. It wasn’t so much a curry like Japanese, Thai, Indian, or Vietnamese. It had deep spicy notes and reminded me more of Chinese beef stew, but still not quite like that either. Again, inauthentic!
The curry was served with a side of scotch bonnet sauce which was f*cking spicy! There’s a reason they just serve it on the side like that.
It’s quite the achievement to take flavors from so many Asian regions and blend them into something new and delicious without feeling like you’ve bastardized its origins. The food is Pan Asian without tasting like fusion food, which I usually roll my eyes at. Fusion is just so overdone, overly sweet, overly exaggerated or flavor dampened. They are definitely cooking up delicious things at Smallwares, and I’m eager to go back and try all the other dishes. If Momofuku is anything like this place, then I can understand the hype. I like that Smallwares is not your standard “New American” “farm to table” “seasonal” crap that Portland does so well, but maybe too much of.
4605 Northeast Fremont Street
Portland, OR 97205