Peter Cat’s famed uni rice with salmon roe and black trumpets (pray it will be on the new menu).

Image: Nick Woo

Peter Cat, the sought-after food-and-vinyl pop-up hidden inside Ryan and Elena Roadhouse’s critically acclaimed Nodoguro, has a permanent home at last inside the former Accanto space at 2838 SE Belmont St (which is right next door to Nodoguro).

Known for capturing an underground Tokyo vibe backed by smart drinks and great snacks (hello, uni rice), Peter Cat will become the evening tenant in Nodoguro’s neighboring space. During the day, it will morph into Tonari, a café serving health-forward Japanese foods in the traditional style of washoku. The feel will draw from the couple's love of Japanese coffee and tea-drinking shops, with special pastries, house espresso, matcha blends, and light lunches delivered Roadhouse-style, with attention to detail.

The Roadhouses are rehabbing the light-filled corner space now, with plans for 40 seats and a private back room. And they’re serious about the redesign, flying in an architect-cum-DJ from Japan to consult on how to create two distinct moods, shifting from Tonari’s soothing, well-windowed environs to Peter Cat’s low-lit jazz den. 

A Roadhouse project is always a beautiful lark. Nodugoro began out of nowhere as a tasting menu pop-up dinner, inspired by the likes of Haruki Murakami and Twin Peaks. A year later, Portland Monthly named Nodoguro Restaurant of the Year 2015 (even though it wasn’t exactly a “restaurant”). In 2016, a takeover/makeover of SE Belmont’s vaunted Genoa space came with a hidden bonus: a vintage-cool lounge off the dining room. Why waste a great space? Last year, it became the testing ground for yet another Roadhouse passion: Tokyo’s underground jazz culture. They called it Peter Cat, after Murakami’s jazz club, which the famed novelist ran in the 1970s before he became a writer. 

Nodoguro’s Ryan and Elena Roadhouse host a Peter Cat pop-up during Feast Portland 2018.

Image: Megan Henson

Then, another serendipitous moment: Accanto, a longtime neighborhood Italian café next door, closed in October, making way for Peter Cat to become a brick-and-mortar reality. Plans are still in the early stages but expect a tight list of what Ryan calls “crafted new wave” izakaya foods–sashimi, oysters, big-flavored vegetables, and seasonal seafood. Look out for “tonguekatsu,” a play on tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) with koji-cured tongue rendered in Wagyu beef fat, then breaded and flash-fried. We can only hope that the pop-up’s signature uni rice, glistening with salmon roe and black trumpets, makes the cut.

Meanwhile, Peter Cat will not be alcohol-focused. “It’s not about drinking, or getting drunk,” says Ryan. Instead, the focus will be Japanese whiskey, quality shochu, and no-proof options, meant for sipping, conversation, and jazz.   

Tonari (which translates to “next to something”) will have its own drinks, including tofu smoothies and organic drinking vinegars. Lunch will be teishoku-style: grab a tray and choose what you like, a la carte. Options will include rotating proteins (black cod to smoked salmon) and sides, rice made from an intricate house blend, and changing miso soups with seasonal accompaniments.   

Things may change along the way, but I’ll bet on this: every detail will be thoughtful. Tonari and Peter Cat will feel special and unlike any other place in town. That’s the Roadhouse way. “It’s just us,” says Elena. “That’s how we do it.”

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