Chef Marlon Alonso has worked for a number of big-names in his life: He staged at Jean-Georges right out of culinary school, before heading to the Breslin to work under April Bloomfield. Then, he hopped over to the then-Michelin-starred Public, which has since closed. From there, he entered the Momofuku world, where he developed a love of wine. That was his last real stint in the restaurant world, transitioning into wine work, which eventually brought him to the Willamette Valley. That changed this year, with Alonso’s latest project: a ghost kitchen restaurant.
Brazakaya, which appeared on delivery apps in September, combines the foods he grew up eating in Brazil with classic izakaya fare, inflected with his experiences in the New York restaurant world. Overall, the restaurant focuses on the concept of bar food, capturing both Brazilian and Japanese staples. “There’s a lot of overlap,” Alonso says. “The idea is, let’s try to combine both cuisines... Japanese flavor with my Brazilian roots.” The menu includes a long list of yakitori, with things like flank steak, lamb meatballs, and shiitake mushrooms brushed in a house tamari tare before it hits the grill. He makes his own kewpie for the Japanese potato salad, which also comes with house-pickled shiitake mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms also appear as a topping for Brazakaya’s polenta, his grandmother’s recipe. “She’s so happy that I’m making her polenta,” he says. “I try to make it exactly how she does it, but I can’t — it’s just hers.”
Many of the dishes at Brazakaya are pulled from Alonso’s memories in Brazil: meals of loaded fries topped with little nuggets of fried sausage in Rio de Janeiro bars, little sprinkle-rolled balls of chocolate known as brigadeiro, grilled slabs of picanha steak (a fat-cap-topped sirloin) with rice, beans, and Brazilian vinaigrette (more like a salsa). But the menu also ventures into his time at the Breslin — he added a lamb burger to the menu as a nod to his time there, with a swipe of his kewpie on a ciabatta bun. “That was the first time I’d have a lamb burger, and it works so well,” he says. “They’re so juicy; they go so well with the ciabatta bread.” He sees plenty of those go out for delivery after 9 p.m., as Portlanders come home from bars.
Originally, Alonso hoped that Brazakaya would be one of those bars: a true brick-and-mortar Brazilian izakaya, with wine and beer. But as he began looking at his options, the low startup costs and overhead of a ghost kitchen appealed to him — at least as he gets started. “Ghost kitchens are much cheaper to get up-and-running,” he says. “I’ve never opened a restaurant myself, and they already had the basics of the kitchens ready to go... I was up and running within 30 days, unheard of when you’re opening a real brick and mortar.” Down the line, however, he says he wants to open a full-blown restaurant, with charcoal grills, booze, and, ideally, chicken heart yakitori. Until then, Portlanders can get marinated hanger steaks and fried rice delivered via Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats — or order for takeout by calling (503) 451-3632. Bazakaya is within a Cloud Kitchen building at 1135 SE Grand Avenue.
• Brazakaya [Official]
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