Portland's favorite cheesemonger Steve Jones is taking the best of the best from his east side Cheese Bar — the cream off the top, if you will — and bringing it Downtown.
By mid-February Jones plans to open Chizu at 1126 SW Alder, nestled in a tiny 450-square-foot storefront next to Multnomah Whiskey Library.
But don't expect this to be a retail counter, or a mini spin-off of Cheese Bar. Instead, Jones is giving cheese plates the sushi bar treatment. Chizu, after all, is Japanese for "cheese."
"It's going to be styled like a sushi bar," he says. "There will be cheese behind glass along the bar. There will be a sushi-style score card, where you can say ‘I want a comte, a camembert and, some crostini.' It gives people as much flexibility as they want. You can build your own experience."
But if you'd rather let the experts make the call, you can order your cheese plate omakase style. "I love sushi, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable ordering," says Jones. "I love going in and saying, ‘Feed me whatever you like' and you get this amazing experience. We're putting that dynamic to cheese. You can say what you typically like, and if you want meat or not, and we'll rock and roll from there."
The selection of 30 cheeses will be portioned and priced $3 to $6, depending how expensive they are to procure. And though there will be accompaniments like pickles, compotes and cured meats, there won't be any hot dishes. "It's very cheese-driven," says Jones. "I'm focusing on the best 10 percent of Cheese Bar."
That goes for the drinks, too. Jones is known for curating beverages as expertly as he curates his cheese, and though the space is too small for taps, he'll have a tight selection of cheese-friendly beer, wine, cider, and sake by the bottle and glass.
For a sweet finish, Jones will likely get a little help from his friends. "The Cacao boys are really excited to have us down here, so we might do a Cacao plate."
And even though it seems like everyone is tucking a mini retail shop inside their restaurants Chizu is just too tiny to do any retail service. With just 18 seats inside, and hopefully a few more on the sidewalk during warm weather, Chizu is meant to be a cozy spot where the Downtown crowd can take a break and indulge in the pleasures of good cheese.
"I've wanted to be Downtown for years," says Jones. "For a while it felt like Downtown was dying. I'm happy to see people are going back now. Not to the Pearl, but Downtown. We're super excited to be here."
If you want to help support Jones' new project, he has a crafty alternative to Kickstarter. He's taking a page from the Japanese tradition of of folding 1,000 origami cranes for good luck, and customers can help. Fold one using the directions on the Chizu website, then stop into Cheese Bar before January 31 to drop it off along with $20. In return, you'll get a $20 gift certificate to use at Chizu when it opens. And if you're not the crafty type, they'll fold it for you when you order a gift certificate online.
Chizu (opening mid-February): 1126 SW Alder St., Portland. Hours will be Sunday through Wednesday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.