Chef Johnny Nunn has launched restaurants before — Five-0-Three in West Linn in 2007, Ringside Fish in 2011— but Verdigris is different, because it's his own. "This is our first venture," he says. "And it's terrifying."
Most recently the chef at Brasserie Montmartre, Nunn and his wife, Kristina, live near the space at 1315 NE Fremont, which is next to stalwarts like Acadia and County Cork pub. They couldn't help noticing the "For Lease" sign and wondering if it was their chance to finally do their own thing. "We coveted it," says Nunn. "We drive by every day." So they took the plunge into the world of chef-ownership, opening Verdigris on December 5.
"I had a pretty good job, but the downside was I wasn't doing exactly want I wanted at those places," says Nunn. "I grew up in fine dining. I was at Eleven Madison Park in New York. I was at Farallon in San Francisco. I wanted to be able to do my own kind of food."
At just 900 square feet, the former wine shop is just 36-seats small. But that might be just right for a guy aching to do his own thing — an intimate spot where his cooking can be personal. "I'm very much looking forward to managing a small place," he says.
He describes the cuisine as contemporary French. Right now you'll find twists like ahi tuna pot au feu with mushroom dashi, beets, and pears, alongside familiar favorites like beef bourguignon with potato puree. Breads are all made in house and there's a trio of desserts that fall into the classic offerings of something chocolate, something fruity, and something custardy. It all sounds like a recipe for pretty traditional bistro, but Nunn has other plans.
"It's not classic, but it's not modernist either. We'll do contemporary plating styles, with negative space on the plate. And we're going to change the menu a lot. But honestly, I don't know where this is going to take me creatively, having this kind of carte blanche. I feel like I have something to say creatively, and we'll have to see where it takes us."
There's a small cocktail menu, as well as an approachable wine list stocked mainly with affordable bottles from California, Oregon, Washington, and France.
And, since it's a neighborhood spot after all, he's wisely introduced weekend brunch. There are sandwiches like croque madame on housemade brioche, plus bigger plates like ricotta pancakes with butternut compote, and poached eggs with smoked cod potato cakes, trout roe and hollandaise.
"We talked about not doing brunch," he says. "But it's one more thing to be really good at. One more thing to be known for."
Verdigris: Dinner served Wednesday through Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Brunch served Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.