Pan-Asian vegan restaurant Ichiza Kitchen and Charleston-style brunch spot Brunch PDX will take over the Yakuza venue at NE 30th and Killingsworth at the beginning of September, after Yakuza relocates to the Nonna Tavern space. Ichiza Kitchen chef and owner Cyrus Ichiza plans to expand the shojin ryori offerings and launch Huli Jing, a nightlife space for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
When Ichiza Kitchen opened in the former the Homegrown Smoker deli in the summer of 2017, the humble Goose Hollow nook was transformed into an intimate bistro with hanging lanterns, traditional tea and sake service, and a completely vegan menu representing a variety of Asian cuisines. Born in Guam and raised by his Filipino grandmother, Ichiza was heavily influenced by Japanese and Taiwanese culture. His immense knowledge of East Asian and Southeast Asian cooking shows in his balanced and complex plates: delicate chili oil wontons, fiery mapo tofu, and fragrant noodle soup slow-cooked with thirteen herbs and spices. The restaurant outgrew the small space after its first year, and Ichiza began actively searching for a new home.
On the other side of town, longstanding izakaya Yakuza was one of North Portland’s go-to spots for sushi and cocktails. When the anonymous Instagram account 86dlist was formed following the Portland food world’s reckoning, Yakuza was among those called out. The posts, combined with owner Dayna McErlean’s growing interest in leaving the restaurant industry and the financial impact of COVID-19, encouraged her to hand Yakuza to her kitchen team and move the restaurant to the former Nonna space, leaving the original Yakuza space vacant. Earlier this summer, Ichiza was considering the Nonna Tavern and DOC space, which had been unoccupied for some time. With Yakuza moving into Nonna Tavern and operating as a ghost kitchen, Ichiza landed the ideal opportunity. “It couldn’t come at more perfect timing,” Ichiza says.
In the original Goose Hollow space, the menu was limited to light grilling and steaming, as the modest kitchen didn’t have a hood. Upgrading into a full kitchen will allow Ichiza to fully explore the elegant Japanese dining style of shojin ryori: Zen Buddhist temple cuisine. Diners can also expect robata and yakitori-grilled skewers and stir-fried dishes, as the larger space is equipped with a wok station fueled by a charcoal grill. Fried dim sum dishes from Singapore and Taiwan, like crisp and chewy sesame balls, will also be joining the menu. In addition to expanding the sake selection, Ichiza plans to add Japanese whisky, sake cocktails, and whisky cocktails to the beverage menu.
Not only does the new venue have a capacity of 140 — a huge jump from the 32-seater in Goose Hollow — it includes a serene outdoor patio that seats 50, which Ichiza notes will work well with social distancing. However, he won’t be hiring new staff until the restaurant can be fully open to the public. When businesses were forced to pivot in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Ichiza managed to secure a PPP loan to retain the existing staff and swiftly adapted to social distancing with an online ordering system and in-house delivery that is handled by former front of house staff and Ichiza himself.
Brunch PDX may have come as a surprise to those who aren’t familiar with Ichiza’s culinary background: he spent most of his teens and early adulthood in Charleston, where he mastered South Carolina low-country slow cooking. The entirely vegan brunch pop-up serves fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, gluten-based country ham, flaky biscuits, and even poached tofu-agar “eggs.” The Killingsworth location offers outdoor space for cooking and serving brunch, including a heated area during the winter months. Brunch PDX will take over the new space from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Ichiza wants to serve brunch Mondays instead of Fridays to serve industry workers, who often have that day off.
Ichiza has another project in the works: a bar nightlife concept called Huli Jing. In Chinese mythology, huli jing fox spirits are guardians who protect the community. But there’s a double entendre: a vixen who steals your man. A feminine fox motif appears throughout Ichiza Kitchen’s branding as Ichiza thinks of the fox as the spirit of the restaurant. In the evenings, Huli Jing will take over the Ichiza Kitchen space on Killingsworth certain evenings, offering a trans- and drag-inclusive space for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities to host burlesque, drag queen, and femme nights, as well as pop-ups for BIPOC to celebrate their heritage and share traditional cuisine.
Ichiza Kitchen will be closed on August 31 and September 1 and will reopen at 5411 NE 30th Ave on September 2. Brunch PDX will begin operating from the new space starting that weekend.