Four years ago today, sushi chef Ryan Roadhouse and his wife and business partner Elena Roadhouse served their first Nodoguro pop-up at NE izakaya Yakuza. Now, Nodoguro is often lauded as the best sushi in Portland, with 13, 19 and 25-course tasting menus incorporating items like A5 Wagyu beef, tiny and tender firefly squid, and risotto-like uni rice topped with popping roe. It’s adored by celebrities like food-loving drummer Questlove, who compared chef Roadhouse to Twin Peaks director David Lynch. To celebrate the four years, the couple is, paradoxically, going back to its roots by doing something completely different: It’ll open an izakaya pop-up in its back room, inspired by Tokyo’s disappearing jazz bars.
Nodoguro often tackles Japanese pop-culture icons and art, including the work of esteemed author Haruki Murakami and illustrator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. While researching Murakami, the two owners discovered that the author loved Japanese jazz vinyl lounges; instead of having a live band at these bars, enthusiasts play through specific records. Murakami liked them so much he owned one called Peter Cat, which is the name of Nodoguro’s new weekend pop-up. For $45, guests will get a six-item bento box filled with items like sakekasuduck ham and braised pork belly, as well as a drink designed by Portland cocktail maverick Jacob Grier. That’s a big jump down from Nodoguro’s typical menu, which hangs out closer to $115+.
Behind the food
True to the chef’s MO, Roadhouse has very few menu details yet — he likes to play with what he can find, and menus change often. He mused about a possible kinpira gobo, a dish made with shredded burdock, as well as a “poutine-like bite” made with duck ham and eggplant.
While Nodoguro has always strayed from a traditional omakase, chef Roadhouse plans to incorporate his wife’s Russian background into the menu. Elena Roadhouse is from the Russian city of Khabarovsk, near the Sea of Japan (interestingly enough, Portland is the sister city of both Sapporo and Khabarovsk). “We use a lot of the same ingredients — soy sauce, rice — but we use them differently,” she said. So Roadhouse is playing around with a dish that fits that region: a salmon roe “Russian-style” sandwich, with bread and butter. Beyond the included izakaya, a larger a la carte menu will be available for those still feeling peckish.
Behind the drinks
Grier, a cocktail consultant who’s worked with spots like Metrovino and Mi Mero Mole, helped the Roadhouses delve into the world of mixed drinks with three specialized cocktails. As another nod to Elena Roadhouse’s heritage and to play off the idea of a Japanese whisky, Grier developed a cocktail using the Russian spirit Polugar, a malt rye that has similar characteristics to vodka, in the style of a martini. The pop-up will also serve a play on a milk punch made with the creamy and still Japanese soda Calpico; the drink uses Cocci Americano, yuzu, and green tea. Finally, Toki Japanese whisky pairs with Vina AB sherry and Birkir birch snaps in the “Watanabe” cocktail. Chef Roadhouse originally planned to feature some hard-to-find Japanese whiskys, but he said roadblocks with the OLCC made it difficult to wrangle notable options. The spot will also serve a variety of sakes, wines, and beer for those uninterested in cocktails.
Behind the space
For those who’ve never been to Nodoguro, its main dining room is sparse, a dramatic u-shaped table surrounding a single island like a sort of omakase theater. In the back room, where Peter Cat will live, is a small bar with a six-seat table, a leather couch, and a round coffee table. It feels like a very stylish friend’s living room more than a restaurant space, which reflects the pop-up’s intended “accessible and casual” vibe, in Elena Roadhouse’s words. She’s often the style mastermind for Nodoguro, according to her husband: In the early days, “Elena would come in and she would reinvent the dining room. She added the aesthetic.”
Spots will open up for the record bar nights like the rest of the restaurant’s dinners, as a ticket you need to reserve on the restaurant’s website. Considering the size of the space, readers may want to jump on those spots early.
How long will it last?
For now, Peter Cat will serve cocktails and bento at 9:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 1 through June 23. That being said, the couple hopes to keep things going indefinitely, depending on community interest. “We hope to continue,” Elena Roadhouse said. “This is a trial period.” It’s a similar sentiment to how the two walked into Nodoguro four years ago: “We went in with no expectations,” Ryan said. “It actually becoming something more than that, that’s the highlight.”
• Nodoguro [Official]
• Peter Cat tickets [Official]
• All Nodoguro coverage [EPDX]
• The 31 Best Sushi Restaurants in America [Thrillist]
• Nodoguro’s Hardcore Omakase offers Portland’s best sushi [The O]
• A visual chronicle of Tokyo’s disappearing jazz bars [The Vinyl Factory Limited]
• Peter Cat [Cool Japan Illustrated]
• Questlove Loves Us; Compares Nodoguro’s Ryan Roadhouse to David Lynch [EPDX]