When I was at dinner at Nodoguro yesterday, a guest sitting to my right asked me if this was my first time or if I was a regular. And I sorta realized I *am* a regular- I’ve been to seven Nodoguro dinners, including this one. Thanks to all the great press Nodoguro has gotten, there are lot of new people discovering and experiencing Nodoguro.
As a regular patron of the Nodoguro culinary arts, I thought besides my usual photo recap of my latest Nodoguro dinner, I would provide an overview of what to expect your first time. So here’s my Guide to Nodoguro, as well as a recap of the Nodoguro Twin Peaks Dinner theme.
The March tickets just went on sale for the new Spring theme so HURRY and snap one up!
What kind of food is Nodoguro?
There are two main kinds of experiences with Nodoguro. You may see tickets for a “Hard Core Omakase” dinner sometimes. Those are sushi/sashimi dinners where you put your fate in them to take you on a chef’s choice journey based on whatever was just flown in from the famed fish markets of Japan.
The second are “9 course Tasting Menu“. This 9 course tasting menu changes based on the theme, which generally changes every month. To give you an idea, here is a listing of the themes I experienced before this post’s Nodoguro Twin Peaks Dinner theme of February 2015
My Previous Nodoguro Coverage:
- “MacDonalds” Fast Food theme (November 2014)
- Totoro / Hayao Miyazaki theme (September 2014)
- Haruki Murakami theme (August 2014)
- Tanabata Matsuri Japanese Festival theme (July 2014)
- Firefly theme (June 2014)
- Nodoguro – my first time when it popped up at Yakuza (April 2014)
As far as I know, I only missed the theme of October 2014 (Tribute to Water) and December (Glitter) and January (Izakaya). Because I’m a stalker I can refer you to Misadventures with Miso for the better than I would have written anyway recaps of Water with Nodoguro and Time to Get Your Sparkle On Nodoguro Style posts.
Anyway, the 9 courses are served in what I, who am not Japanese and not very well versed in the complexities and intricacies of Japanese culture, would describe as a combination of Modern Kaiseki and Kappo Ryouri style. The Modern Kaiseki description I picked because the dinner is very formal in presentation and the food philosophy is sophisticated simplicity to respect the local and seasonal ingredients.
In presentation, each individual dish tries to showcase taste, texture, appearance, and color. Both the food and the dishware count as important elements of the visuals. Nodoguro carefully considers what plates and bowls they will use as well as carefully arrangement of every element in plating the ingredients. You might even notice in even placing the dish in front of you, they may even turn it just right to face you. All these artful dishes will be small, but trust me, they do add up so you will be satiated.
In terms of hearing it’s simple food, don’t be fooled. There is always a printed menu at your seat, and often there will only just be a handful of words to describe what the dish is – say one dinner there was a dish described as Dungeness Crab and Fennel Sunomono. In this dish, there was this tubular vegetable thing that had some sort of weird melt in your mouth taste and texture in it? Oh says Ryan offhandedly, just Uni wrapped in Kelp. No big deal. There are so many times that you ask about one element – why does this Dashi broth in this Black Cod with Dashi dish feel so soft, what is that other flavor? Oh, I vaporized sake in it, explains Ryan. There is all sorts of hidden complexity in the simplicity.
The Kappo Ryouri description I picked because you will be sitting right across from the chefs at a kitchen counter. If you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant before and seen the sushi counter – it’s very similar to that, but without any glass case needed to keep seafood cold for sushi. Kaiseki also has a specific set of rules of the progression of food, while kappo ryori has more freedom on what each course may have in terms of ingredients and cooking style.
At a high level, based on my dinner experiences so far, there will always be generally within the first few courses some sort of raw and/or sashimi dish. There is always a sunomono dish, a “salad” which as Ryan wryly explained, is “stuff in vinegar”. There is always a cooked fish dish – it may be smoked, or broiled. After that is some sort of meatier dish, which may be just generous protein or a protein on top of rice bowl dish. There is always a sweet rolled omelette dish (tamago) as the 8th course, followed by dessert as the 9th course, and that is usually finished with hot Japanese tea and manju snack.
Where is Nodoguro?
Nodoguro’s origins are as a nomadic pop-up restaurant, since it had no permanent home. My journey with them started at Yakuza, and then they moved to Evoe, where Nodoguro would visit for a few days every month. They would literally be bringing in the prepped ingredients and food in boxes that day and at the mercy of what Evoe’s kitchen state was, with the Evoe menu on the chalkboard taking up most of the largest wall a reminder that we were only visiting.
When Evoe shuttered in August, the space then permanently became Nodoguro at 3731 SE Hawthorne Boulevard. This is an attached space directly to Pastaworks, a gourmet grocery store. You can see a Nodoguro sign to the left (facing them) of the Pastaworks with a door, but also if you enter Pastaworks, on the left side as you step in, you will see the Japanese style sliding doors that demarcate the grocery store from Nodoguro’s dining space and you can also go in that way (sometimes musicians seem to camp very close to the Nodoguro door, so you may feel more comfortable coming in/out from Pastaworks).
There will be some that probably would debate whether Nodoguro still qualifies as a pop-up since it no longer moves around and has control over their kitchen and dining space. At the same time though, the same philosophy of a pop-up still is a driving force, since
- Nodoguro is constantly doing something new, creative, and experimental because the change in themes every month allows for a lot of freedom and flexibility
- The menus at Nodoguro are always prix fixe because of the limited nature of the kitchen and number of guests, it is always a very crafted controlled menu progression designed by Nodoguro
- The small space also limits Nodoguro to one seating per day, with a limited number of seats, and you have to purchase your “dinner ticket” ahead of time. They are only a few days every week.
Who is Nodoguro?
If you haven’t heard, Ryan Roadhouse is nominated as one of the James Beard Best Chef Northwest for 2015.
Ryan was also highlighted as a Rising Star Chef 2014 and Nodoguro listed one of Portland’s Best Restaurants by Portland Monthly, Ryan and Nodoguro also made the Eater PDX Top 3 List for 2014 Chef of the Year and 2014 Restaurant of the Year.
There has been coverage of some of his themes by pretty much all the local media ranging from their first highlight by the Oregonian when opening as a pop-up to being part of the Restaurant of the Year roundup when the Oregonian dubbed the winner “All Portland Pop-up Restaurants”. There are also swoons by the Portland Mercury on the Haruki Murakami menu or recently the Examiner on the Twin Peaks menu I also am writing about in this post.
Besides Chef de Cuisine Ryan, he has 3 main partners in his crafting of the Nodoguro experience. There is Mark Wooten of Phantom Rabbit Farms who is providing so many of their ingredients. Apparently they just sat down with some coffee with a Japanese seed catalog and oh, decided what to grow all year. You will see Mark and his beautiful natural locks also working as Ryan’s sous chef.
The second and best looking of the Nodoguro trio is Elena Roadhouse. Besides being Ryan’s wife, Elena also is the hostess who greets you and often explains the dishes and beverage pairings if you choose to purchase beverages AND is the designer extraordinaire who updates the atmosphere of Nodoguro every month based on the current theme. No detail is left unturned, be it the sign at the entrance to the tablescape to your menu or the art on the walls or hanging from the ceiling.
Finally, Paul Willenberg consults as the Beverage Director, with beverage expertise that includes beer, wine, sake, cocktails, probably everything liquid. Every menu has new pairings that he creates, and there always are surprises that challenge what you think of what a sherry or gewurtz or gruner are, and maybe new grapes or styles of sake you’ve never heard of before. He brings the best he can think of from around the world, but also always includes a local purveyor as well.
How do I experience Nodoguro?
There are limited seats and dates of the dinners. Every Nodoguro guest must always go online to buy your ticket beforehand. Follow on Twitter Nodoguro or Ryan Roadhouse to keep up for when new tickets or events for more Nodoguro Upcoming Offerings announcements as they come.
If you are dining with friends, buy your tickets together or communicate to Nodoguro to let them know because there are only a dozen seats. If they know ahead of time how many are in your party, they can make sure that there are seats together for you. You should let them know any constraints you might have (I often dine with a friend who can’t eat salmon and she is always accommodated for, and another time there was someone who could not eat pork) so they can prepare an alternative if needed.
After purchasing your reservation online from the Nodoguro website, usually a couple days before your dinner Ryan will email you what the specifics of the menu for your dinner evening will be, and let you know what time to arrive.
Dinner from start to finish is about 2 hours or so. When you arrive, after picking your seat, you will also have the chance to peruse the beverage menu and then choose to order drinks a la carte or do a pairing.
Be aware that since you are sitting at a chef’s counter, you will likely be sitting right next to each other and mostly talk to your dining friends immediately to the right or left so set yourself up accordingly. After tea service, generally one of the Nodoguro people will have a tablet running Square so you can pay for your drinks/gratuity using a credit card, or of course cash.
Twin Peaks Dinner Recap in Photos
It lived up to what it needed to be.
I have to give a special bow also to the amazing pairings by Paul Willenberg for this meal, which I thought was the best pairing he’s ever done. I had the sake pairing and every single one was spot on, complimenting and revealing additional flavors to enhance the food.
The Hatsumago Junmai Kimoto with the Smoked Cheese Pig… those are flavors that were just once in a lifetime that I could experience, because I don’t think anyone would ever put all those things together ever again. On Paul’s Instagram I learned this was a Pairing he adored as well:
See, how smart is that? The wine pairing (which I sampled a few sips of from my dining companion) was full of unexpected surprises, and I thought the fact that wines/grapes were unusual and not what you would initially think was a great nod to the theme of Twin Peaks. The La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry was not one I would like by itself, but with the Cod in the Dashi Percolator it emphasized the Dashi flavors wonderfully and who would normally think to start off with sherry?
He also reminded me of a grape he had introduced me to last year at the Totoro dinner, a Blaufränkisch which at this dinner he paired a Blaufränkisch wine (this one with Wachter Wiesler 2010 Pfarrweingarten Blaufränkisch) with the seared duck and it was heavenly. Actually both pairings with the duck – the wine and the sake- were so good I kept taking sips from both while my dining friend was in the restroom as I just couldn’t decide what worked better.
I was constantly the last person to finish my dish and would look around to see everyone’s place was cleared and I was taking way too long with my mini-bites trying to make it last as long as possible.
Overall, this was my favorite dinners from Nodoguro ever because although all the dishes are tasty, this was one progression just seemed like all were hitting it (though my favorite Nodoguro dishes of all time still remains the Chiashu with Turnip, Miso, and Walnut with the 2012 Johan Vineyards Blaufränkisch and his dessert of Sterling Tiramisu). I can’t wait to see what Nodoguro does next!
The March tickets just went on sale for the new Spring theme so HURRY and snap one up!