In her career, Cate Hughes has worked in and opened several restaurants, bars, and food businesses — as a consultant for San Diego’s Little Italy Food Hall, as a sommelier for places like San Francisco’s A16, leading the operations and front-of-house hiring at Michelin-starred Jeune et Jolie. In that time, she’s pulled experiences from a number of different culinary worlds, from specialty markets to fine dining, but she’s always wanted to open something that sort of incorporates it all, a sort of one-stop shop for good, unpretentious food.
That was the impetus for her creating Rotigo, set to open in the former Hem 23 space in Northwest Portland early next month, her soon-to-open, intentionally amorphous... counter-service restaurant? Bottle shop and wine bar? Grocery? Sort of all three, she says; she doesn’t like labels.
“You can make it work for whatever need you’re trying to do that day,” she says. “It’s really meant to be a choose-your-own adventure situation — you can grab a really delicious sandwich, a really nice sparkling water, and you’re on your way. Or you can come at happy hour, get some drinks, and bring home a chicken and some cheese and a bottle of wine.”
Rotigo will be split into very specific spaces within the building, which recently ditched Hem 23’s dark, industrial-modern aesthetic in favor of white walls, plenty of plants, and repurposed wood. In one corner, customers will find a selection of specialty foods, dry goods, and snacks, including a refrigerator case with cheese, cured meats, citrus, and “other tasty things,” in Hughes’s words — “Everything you put in a hostess basket, that you bring to the dinner party.” Handling the Rotigo-made tasty things will be chef Cara Powell, formerly of Nel Centro.
The Rotigo chickens sit at the heart of both the space and the menu: A 24-bird rotisserie is in full view from the main space, spinning birds that customers can order whole, in sandwiches, in salads, and as soup. The chickens start with a 36-hour brine, with things like herbes de provence and lemons, before they’re air-dried in the walk-in to ensure a crispy skin. They hit the rotisserie, and then land on plates and in takeout containers as whole or half birds. Some of the chicken will be pulled for things like the Roti Niçoise, a take on the classic salad that swaps the fish for chicken, or the Tuscan Picnic, a sandwich with oven-roasted tomatoes, chicken, and salsa verde. “Everything is thoughtful in terms of how it’s cross-utilized — we’ll do chickens, chicken salad, and soup,” Hughes says.
That ethos also applies to the restaurant’s salads and sandwiches; Rotigo uses Grand Central Bakery and New Cascadia breads for sandwiches slathered in chevre or spicy farmer’s cheese, which can also be used for panzanella. Much of the menu is designed to be accessible to vegetarians, vegans, and those with dietary restrictions; all of the sides are vegan, and all of the sandwiches can be made vegetarian for those who ask. “Everything is put together, everything is a la minute,” Hughes says. “If you ask to take off a cheese, a nut, an allium, the answer will always be yes, unless we absolutely can’t do it.”
At the bar, the primary focus will be on wines and low-proof drinks, including things like amari, vermouth, sherries, and aperitivi. Using two vestaboards, reminiscent of European train stations, the bar will swap the daily glass pours and beers on tap, with a significant selection of bottles to take home; the wine selection will focus on small European producers from places like Spain, France, and Portugal, with some West Coast representation, as well. Non-alcoholic beverages are not an afterthought, either; Hughes has selected a number of zero-proof drinks to keep in stock, including Smith Teamaker nitro chai. For those who wish to linger, Rotigo will also be home to a few cozy booths for more lengthy meals or drinks.
Rotigo should open in the first week of December at 1514 NW 23rd Avenue.
• Rotigo [Official]