Image of Anthony Cafiero by Avila/EPDX
When chef Anthony Cafiero departed Tabla last week (after a three-year tenure of turning out handmade pasta), the comments section lit up with speculation about his vague "future plans" — namely, whether the molecularly influenced chef would open his own restaurant.
Answer: he's working on it. Just one week post-departure, Cafiero is currently in talks with backers to open a 30-seat "modern tapas" concept called Ración, which aims to make modernist techniques more accessible as part of a playful, communal experience. Early designs revolve around two central bar spaces that provide the majority of the seating — one bar features an open kitchen (with dishes passed over the counter to diners), the other, a cocktail bar featuring modernist drinks. "We're making spumas out of Campari, we're making orange spheres that burst as you drink," Cafiero says. "We're making hot-cold-hot-cold drinks that you eat with a spoon — like Jell-O shots, in a certain way."
And the food menu, unsurprisingly, would highlight a similar "hyper-modern" aesthetic, "with lots of playful things" that shift diner expectations. A soup, for example, provides "an explosion in your mouth... it looks like a little orange ball because it's a cocoa butter and paprika shell, but there's a liquid soup in there," Cafiero says. "A $2 item. Prep takes a while, but we could build a whole menu on it."
According to Cafiero, much of Ración's modernist menu will recreate classic combinations and flavor profiles, but with different textures (and sometimes, ingredients). Take the familiar combination of "octopus, potato, paprika, white wine," Cafiero says. "Now make a dish that's octopus, with paprika gelee, a white wine consomme — [that you] pour in — and then potato chip and paprika on top. So it tastes like it what it should taste like, only it's redoing, re-plating things. Keeping it small, keeping it priced right, keeping it inventive."
"I was just doing — if you compress watermelon and put it next to ahi tuna, they're identical. They're both intense reds," Cafiero says. "So doing the watermelon/tuna cubed salad, but every bite [is a surprise]. I compressed watermelon with sushi flavors — a little soy, ginger, rice wine vinegar — and it made the watermelon taste like spicy tuna roll. It's not like it looks and feels, but now it tastes like sushi tuna, like a piece of sashimi. There's vinegar, there's marin, it's fucking weird. That kind of playful stuff."
As the new concept springs to life, Cafiero will seek out pop-up dinner opportunities around town, as well as keep his summer calendar of scheduled events (like a Plate & Pitchfork dinner with the Bent Brick's Will Preisch). The Ración experience, Cafiero hopes, will offer "stuff that no one's doing unless they're charging a shitload of money and it's a white tablecloth place. I'd love to work at a restaurant like that — it's just not how I eat," he says. "I want many things over the course of a meal, I want it to be fun, I want rock 'n roll."
· All Previous Anthony Cafiero Coverage [Eater PDX]