Japan’s crush on Portland is getting serious. As Portland Monthly recently reported, young Asian creatives and magazine editors have been flocking to the city in search of raw authenticity. On any night you’ll spot them: giggling, snapping photos and parsing the eccentric, farm-fresh menu at Navarre, run by freethinking chef John Taboada. He’s the king of the harebrained idea, the guy who chopped down an oak tree in his parents backyard to build tables for a slightly lawless “don’t call it a restaurant” eat spot showcasing produce grown at a nearby city farm. Since opening at 10 NE 28th Ave. in 2001, Navarre has embodied a way of eating in Portland, Oregon: intensely seasonal, super-handcrafted, and an “only what we love” philosophy.
So it’s more than fascinating to consider that a new outpost of wild-child Navarre now sits inside Tokyo’s flagship “Niko And…,” a corporate lifestyle store selling trend-savvy objects in the bustling Harajuku district, where teenagers reinvent themselves in eye-popping street fashions. The second floor restaurant is a spiffy recreation of the Portland original, complete with communal tables, crates of fresh produce stacked on chairs, and Navarre’s mishmash of seasonal brainstorms, Euro-centric eats, and vintage cookbook finds. The menu already boasts some Navarre signatures: crab cakes, roasted mushrooms, and the kitchen’s unbeatable chocolate mousse (not to mention a photograph of the smiling, camera-shy Taboada with his eyes closed).
But what drives the Japanese excitement is Navarre’s farm-fresh vision in the heart of the city, with ingredients drawn from Toyko’s growers. As the web site proudly says: “Mr. John Taboada created the concept of ‘From Farm to Table,’ highlighting to the maximum how wonderful it is to have trusted farmers bring fresh vegetables straight to your table.”
Taboada doesn’t own the Japan-based spin-off. “Niko And…” approached him with a concept, and for now, he’s leasing the Navarre logo and spirit to the company while providing recipes and consulting. Taboada says the biggest learning curve has involved conversations around seasonality. “They’re where Portland was ten years ago,” says Taboada. “I emailed the cooks and asked what was in season right now. They sent me a picture of a cow.”