Seasoned San Francisco chef Deepak Kaul will open Portland’s first specifically Kashmiri restaurant this week. Casual Indian cafe Bhuna will serve draft cocktails, beer, and spiced rogan josh in Northwest Portland starting October 17, and the chef has revealed the subdued, borderline minimalist interiors and new menu.
When chef Kaul moved from the fine dining kitchens of San Francisco to Portland, he was completely unknown. His years at storied restaurants like Serpentine and Jardiniere meant little in a town that often pretends California doesn’t exist. Still, Kaul quickly became the talk of his new home, not for scallop dishes or elaborate chef’s tastings, but rather rice bowls served at a brewery.
His Kashmiri pop-up was the place to be on Monday nights; crowds would gather within Northeast Portland’s Culmination for chickpea-battered calamari and stewed eggplant and tomatoes. Rice bowls, smothered in things like chettinad chicken with coconut milk, arrived with a touch of cucumber raita, yogurt, and green mango pickles — these bowls became the foundation of Kaul’s pop-up.
Within a matter of months, the chef outgrew the Culmination kitchen, bringing his rice bowls to the former Dick’s Kitchen space on NW 21st. The new Kashmiri restaurant is cheerful but somewhat stark, reminiscent of cafes and fast-casual restaurants over the colorful and busy design of many Indian restaurants (see: Bollywood Theater). Kaul likes it that way. “I like the coffee shop,” Kaul says, sitting in the window of the soon-to-open Bhuna. “It’s airy, it’s light, it’s relaxed. That’s the vibe I want to create in this space.”
Still, Kaul and his business partner, Eric Bigger, wanted to pull some design inspiration from India. The bright aquamarine, lime green, and yellow smattered across the space were pulled from a ‘60s Air India poster, for a few pops of cheer with distinct restraint.
That restraint appears just as readily in his food, which focuses on the Northern Indian state as opposed to the melting pot Indian often spotted across the United States. “Saag paneer, butter chicken, tikka masala — I didn’t have any interest in doing that,” Kaul says. “Generally speaking, it’s the same two-step. It’s like Italian food; it didn’t regionalize until what, two years ago?”
While the chef is Kashmiri, this is the first time he’s really explored the cuisine of his childhood professionally. For the last 10 months, he’s been recreating his mother’s dishes with a new lens, occasionally reaching out to her for some guidance. In general, she’s to thank for all that restraint — while he leans on overly involved tapestries of spice, she often tells him to take things out, using techniques like a splash of hot ghee or burnt aromatics to impart flavor.
For those familiar with the original pop-up, Bhuna’s new menu won’t come as a huge shock; the restaurant is serving the same rice bowls, pork vindaloo, and chickpea-battered calamari as Kaul did Monday nights at Culmination. New to the menu are his various sides and snacks, vegetable dishes like seasonal pakora served with a splatter of mint chutney, fried in a batter twinged yellow with turmeric, coriander, cayenne and garam masala. Turmeric also appears in his paneer, which arrives sitting in a fragrant base of cloves and green coriander. Kaul burns ginger and garlic to help set up the base for his masoor dal, then adding turmeric, mustard seed, cilantro stems, and garam masala to give it depth. On top, he adds a few curry leaves fried in ghee.
Bigger, the co-owner serving as general manager and beverage director, has been working through cocktails playing with similar spices: An old fashioned gets a dose of garam masala syrup, and a riff on a Tom Collins gets an infusion of turmeric tea, carbonated and pulled to order. The tap list will also lean heavily on local beers, including the pop-up’s original home base brewery — Culmination has made a marigold-infused kolsch for the restaurant, on-tap for the opening.
Take a look at the restaurant’s menu below:
• Bhuna [Official]
• Bhuna [Facebook]
• Indian Pop-Up Bhuna Will Find Its Own Home in Northwest Portland [EPDX]
• A Bunch of Pop-Ups and Carts Are Finding New Homes [EPDX]
• All previous Bhuna coverage [EPDX]