A modern speakeasy hauls a new wave of seafood ashore in Portland.
Despite our proximity to two rivers and an ocean, Portland exalts pork, and seafood ambitions are rare and often fleeting. When was the last time a kitchen charged hard beyond wood-fired halibut? It took one self-taught dude with no big-city experience and a $15,000 budget to dream up Portland’s best fish story: a reservations-only, modern-style speakeasy. At Roe, opened last fall, Trent Pierce’s only tools are an immersion circulator, a couple of induction burners, modernist cookbooks, and a headful of crazy ideas.
3113 SE Division St
Instead of fancy décor and a full kitchen, Pierce invested in exotic, sashimi-grade fish (mostly line-caught in Hawaii). Then he laid down a $100, 10-course tasting menu, one of priciest tickets in town, swimming with barracudas, blue snappers, and butterfish. It worked out better than anyone imagined, finding followers and critical acclaim while resetting the seafood switch in Portland.
To find it, head to the very back of Block & Tackle on SE Division Street. Past the unmarked curtain is another world, small and quiet, a kind of secret club where jazz fills an amber-lit chamber. If you’re looking for a nice crab cake, you’re at the wrong place. At Roe, Pierce and ever-present sidekick Patrick Schultz, quieter than Zen monks, assemble mysterious food collages as diners fork into dishes that look like miniature Kandinsky paintings. Each composition holds no less than a half-dozen flavor boosters, Thai herbs to French sauces, smoked steelhead roe to confit jalapeño. Antarctic toothfish cuddles up to shishito peppers and bruléed figs; walu tuna sashimi meets a blizzard of frozen foie gras, each melting bite richer than Paul Allen.
Flavors can blur over an evening, and with limited kitchen gear, everything is raw, sous vide, flash-marinated, or butter-poached—code words for soft. You may find yourself howling for a crispy skin. Then comes a vision of lobster pho with beefy broth, handmade cuttlefish noodles, habanero heat, Thai herbs, and a lifetime of pleasure. You’re hooked.