Light on the Sauce

By Sylvan Goldberg May 19, 2009 Published in the February 2005 issue of Portland Monthly

Saucebox shot rujtin

Image: Julia Raymond

Yin-yang comparisons are inevitable. The stark white walls of the new Saucebox expansion might make habitués of the notoriously dark Portland restaurant recoil like so many vampires at dawn, but the aesthetic is all about familiarity.

“We don’t want a new restaurant,” says Joe Rogers, co-owner with Bruce Carey. “But we want to keep it fresh for us as well as the customers.” To maintain Saucebox’s storied atmosphere, Rogers & Co left standing half the wall that separates the old space from the new. While this keeps the entry’s appearance relatively unchanged, the mezzanine that hovered over the original room now extends across both spaces, connecting them visually just as a hall of woven mirrors connects them physically.

Meant for diners more than drinkers, the new bright white box will free up space in the original room for the sauce-only crowd. “The venue has always been a little more bar than restaurant,” Rogers notes, hoping the new room will attract a broader clientèle that is more serious about food.

Chef Adam Kekahuna is using his enlarged kitchen to expand his menu, incorporating more Polynesian influences. And bar chef Janina Wager is expanding the house cocktail list by nearly 40 new drinks, for a total of about a hundred. It all makes for a civil union: while the bar continues to offer comely comestibles, the new room will feature what Carey calls the “medicine cabinet,” a liquor storage case of glass and metal broadcasting the bar’s bounty.

Few choices in this world are as black and white as where to sit at Saucebox.