When designing the menu for his first restaurant, chef Rodrigo Ochoa plucked his favorite dishes from across Asia. Pekin duck, he says, is a signature of the restaurant at the foot of the Wieden & Kennedy building in the Pearl, but so is the kimchi fried rice, finished tableside and available vegan. There’s also a full sushi bar, as well as a Russian-style caviar service—with blinis and boiled egg. Janken is the name of the Japanese game of rock, paper, scissors. And the childhood game that helps you make tough decisions might come in handy here—Janken the restaurant has something for pretty much everyone. It opened to friends and family this weekend, and is now open to the public, Wednesday through Saturday, 4–11 p.m. (there’re also talks of brunch on the horizon).
Born in Medellín, Colombia, Ochoa grew up in Miami and cooked in many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. At Mina, he learned high-end elegance from James Beard award-winning restaurateur Michael Mina. At BLT Steak in the Ritz-Carlton, he honed the French techniques of namesake chef Laurent Tourondel. And at Komodo, an upscale Southeast Asian hot spot, he learned the trick to crispy-skinned Pekin duck, and his way around a sushi counter.
Ochoa is a newcomer to Portland, arriving in town in January. He fell in love with Portland while honeymooning here in 2020. When the opportunity came up to ditch Floridian palm trees for evergreens and rain, he jumped. While building out the former Bluehour space, Ochoa worked his way into the local scene.
He met pastry chef Gabby Martinez, who you may know from the popup Sweet Creature, at Portland Flea. She introduced him to the chef behind the Mexican pop up Chelo, Luna Contreras, and the three collaborated on a pop up this summer. When Ochoa asked if the two wanted to join the opening team of Janken, it was a no-brainer.
He also brought some talent with him from the East Coast. His right hand, Juah Oh’s touch can be seen in the restaurant’s Korean dishes, like jabchae, wok-fried sweet potato noodles with beef and vegetables, and kimbap, a cousin of sushi made with Korean fillings. The restaurant’s sushi bar, helmed by Erich Hentschel, another Miami transplant who worked for Ochoa at Komodo, offers a range of classic nigiri and hand rolls with fillings like salmon, avocado, cucumber, and tempura bits, or “tenkatsu.” Sushi also takes a high-end turn with dishes like the $38 wagyu beef nigiri, and another that features both tuna and seared foie gras.
To craft a space to match his pan-Asian menu, Ochoa tapped the local design firm Based Experiments. They retrofitted the former bistro space with Dutch-inspired wishbone chairs, chic bouclé banquettes, and Japanese-style lantern pendant lights. Oh, and there’s an almost 20-foot-tall faux cherry tree looming over the 150-seat dining room.
Other dishes to look out for include octopus-laden takoyaki and kimchi-laced wagyu sliders. There are several options for steak, some served with Japanese accompaniments like wasabi and pickled daikon, others with Argentinian chimichurri; and a brief but exciting cocktail menu that we’re told features a drink served inside of a smoke-filled cloche.
250 NW 13th Avenue, jankenrestaurant.com