If you want a taste of how hard it is to open a restaurant in Portland and keep it relevant for four years, read chef-owner Johanna Ware’s heartfelt goodbye to Smallwares on Facebook. It starts with an excerpt from Frank Ocean’s new album, Blonde, an apt metaphor for her tumultuous struggle with the restaurant—her first “love.”
Smallwares opened in February 2012 to critical acclaim. Ware spent time at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar; New York’s Michelin-starred, globe-hopping Public; and Portland’s farm-loving Nostrana before opening her first restaurant. PoMo’s Karen Brooks reviewed it that year. “Asia is the jumping-off point, but inauthenticity rules—backed by real technique. Seasonality is acknowledged but not worshipped… [Smallwares is] bound by a disciplined, New York-expat spirit, cross-cultural cooking, and a refreshingly girlie energy… Nothing tastes as it seems. Jump on in.”
In short, Ware faced the uncool and besmirched genre of Asian fusion, declaring her own style “inauthentic Asian.” Playlists ran from blistering Sichuan pepper-pocked map dofu to oysters on the half shell in a brine of fish sauce, cilantro, and lime. Ware’s ssam-style dinners brought Korean-meets-Northwest family meals, centered on Korean-gone-Southern pork spareribs, whole roast salmon, and groaning tables of kimchi, pickles, and dipping sauces.
“I am not sure what is next for me and really I just need to get part of me back,” says Ware in her Facebook announcement. “Hopefully Smallwares will rise again…”
Stop by before September 24 to get a last taste of her ballsy, chile-fueled cooking. At least for a while…