Portland Monthly's Rising Star Restaurant of the Year: Nomad.PDX

Two upstarts transform a shabby urban space into a modernist showcase—tweezers, Wonder Bread, and beauty in tow.

By Karen Brooks October 9, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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EVOLUTION OF A DESSERT Every few months, a sweet new riff on Nomad’s “egg” of almond ice cream arrives. Before it was filled with a yolky jam and set atop a fried kataifi pastry nest (right), it greeted spring with fennel, daisies, and frozen shards of cardoon mousse (middle) and even hid under toasted meringue chips with chocolate cake and cherry jelly (left).

Is this place ...

A) Delusional?
B) A parody?
C) Making the food Portland’s been missing?

That question dances through the mind at Nomad.PDX, a high-minded hideaway serving 15-course tasting menus in near obscurity, four nights a week. First off, you’re sitting on padded folding chairs in a room above a bar, reading a menu that quotes Camus, Einstein, and that great philosopher, Robert Downey Jr. The vibe teeters on a knife’s edge of pretentiousness. But then comes this: a wide-ranging procession of edible art, full of flavor, depth, and beauty, yet still fun and accessible. Some dishes are wildly complex, like savory padron pepper ice cream perched over “brown butter soil” and clad in leaves. Others evoke Mom’s lunch box (a miniature ode to Wonder Bread with glistening peanutty butter and bright jam). It quickly adds up to the most exciting, out-of-the-box cooking in town right now, from two determined talents who seem to sleep in their chefs’ whites.

Ryan Fox, an old kitchen soul at 29, cut his teeth at Las Vegas’s demanding Joël Robuchon and Portland’s progressive Castagna. Copilot Ali Matteis, 22, is still green enough to include the Future Farmers of America on her résumé, just below training at New York’s Atera with avant star Matt Lightner, who still crows about her.

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Together, the pair find inspiration where others rarely look, and, unlike at so many local kitchens, their menu is defiantly nonstatic—always morphing and stretching. As late summer’s heartbreaking wildfires raged, the kitchen charred three kinds of eggplants out of their minds for a baba ghanoush of stunning intensity. Fox’s love of yogurt parfaits evolved over months into one of the year’s best desserts—striated layers of exquisite beet panna cotta, cocoa-hazelnut granola crunch, and blackberries, each drupelet freeze-blasted into frosty berry caviar.

Climate studies are less complicated than some of the house techniques. (If you’ve never tasted basil chlorophyll, extracted from the leaves, then strained into a sauce the color of an Amazonian jungle, this is the place.) But the through-line is always deliciousness. And if you didn’t know Fox and Matteis coming in, you will going out: they hand-deliver each dish, sharing backstories, ingredient lore, and talk-your-ears-off charm. Only one thing is certain: the answer to my question above? It’s C

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