Oma's Hideway Opens with Chinese-Malaysian Street Foods, Char Siu Pork Platters, and Mai Tai Slushies
After a five-month hiatus, the short-lived Oma's Takeaway, one of PoMo's best restaurants of 2020, will reboot on May 22 as Oma's Hideway, complete with a new menu and a retro futurism vibe at 3131 SE Division.
Say hello to V. 3 of a pandemic-born project from the folks behind Northeast's Gado Gado, a delicious mind-bender of Indonesian food. Last spring, Oma's Takeway was born as goofy-delicious “stoner food” pop-up at Gado Gado, a way to inject fun into very un-fun times. Then a prime location opened up on SE Division, and suddenly, Oma's morphed into a brick-and-mortar with playful Malaysian foods at its heart.
But the pandemic didn't care about great reviews, and in January, Oma's went into hibernation to regroup and blueprint the future for the space, food to mood, in the former home of Andy Ricker's Whiskey Soda Lounge. The new roll-out will include takeout, delivery, and four indoor tables only to start. Outdoor patio seats include a handful of private booths with electric heaters on the sidewalk. Hours will be 4:30–9 pm, Wednesday–Sunday.
Chinese-Malaysian street food is the jumping-off point, char siu pork platters to pork spareribs remixed with fish sauce caramel, sour tamarind, and tomato sambal. A sneak peek at the work-in-progress menu shows roughly 16 a la carte dishes, mostly $12–22. But there's no pigeonholing a list that juggles wok-fried noodles, a burger and crinkle-cut curry fries, and a pandan waffle holding crispy curry sweetbreads, snap peas, morel mushrooms, peanuts, and pickled herb salad. Or a dessert list that makes room for Fruity Pebbles rice crispy treats and a modern durian tiramisu.
“It's hard for me to say it's one thing,” says Thomas Pisha-Duffly, chef and co-helmer of the Gado Gado/Oma's empire with his wife, Mariah. “Where the food comes from is a lot of influences. I'm just pumped to be back in the kitchen, making my own noodles, doing something I care about. I'm excited to be excited again, as we try to break out of this shell.”
My guess for a breakout hit? The roti canai: super flaky, super delicious Malaysian flatbread with changing curries on the side for ripping and dipping. Already, it's a highlight at Gado Gado. Or possibly wonton mee, made with fresh egg noodles, handmade shrimp and pork wontons, and char siu pork belly. Meanwhile, the kitchen is bringing back the Oma-zing Burger, a hit from the original “stoner food” pop-up. The five-ounce beef patty comes with shredded lettuce, American cheese, and chili jam on a bun griddled with lime leaf coconut butter. “It's my ideal burger,” says Thomas. “It's not a smash burger. I want to keep that fat inside.”
Some of most interesting dishes could emerge from the outdoor charcoal oven, a relic from Ricker's Whiskey Soda Lounge. The day's meats, pork jowls to sausages, will dangle in a six-foot-high meat case front and center in the dining room. Eventually, the barbecue station will have its own small chef's counter. I'm curious about the charcoal-roasted game hens, a nod to one of Pok Pok's most popular dishes, but unlike that version, Oma's roasted bird gets deep-fried to order and a side of coconut sambal.
Meanwhile, one of Portland's best bar minds, Eric Nelson—co-owner of hot spot Eem and the pop-up Shipwreck—is collaborating on the drink list. The Pisha-Dufflys and Nelson, longtime friends, have previously joined forces on pop-ups. Look for eight drinks to start, meant to pair with spicy, herbaceous food, including a cucumber-y margarita flashing Oma's bread and butter pickle juice. “We share a vibe,” says Thomas. “His cocktails fit. He knows how to have fun.” A pair of slushies will round out the options, with flavors inspired by everything from mai tais to pandan custard.
Expect the recipes to change frequently, a Thomas signature. Mixing and matching Southeast Asian flavor cabinets and a love of Americana weaves through all the couple's food projects. But the tie that binds is Kiong Tien Vandenberg, Thomas's Chinese-Indonesian grandmother and food muse, who he called “Oma.” Tina, as she was known, passed away from coronavirus last year.
Oma's presence will be felt not just in the food. The dining room's new retro futurism look includes a rhinestone mirror-tile bar that channels a disco ball, metallic gold table covers, and pop-art bathrooms. Mariah, the house musicologist, is assembling a playlist of 1970s Indonesian psychedelic rock and funk from albums they discovered at a used record store in Jakarta.
But the Pisha-Dufflys are most excited about Kate Blairstone's hand-painted wallpaper with its parade of tripped-out sea creatures, which will be unveiled in June. As Mariah tells it, “People in Indonesia used to send tropical fish to Tom's grandmother. She sold them at her underground store in her garage. It will be wild.”