Portland has long been an incubator for wild ideas. From cat lounges to grilled cheese on a bus, Portland has one of the most eclectic food scenes in the country. And while pop-up supper clubs are nothing new, they have found a home in Portland’s “keep it weird” environment.
Portland’s unique blend of excellent products, beautiful countryside, and nice people has created a place for almost anyone to not only survive, but thrive. It was in this welcoming environment that Ryan Fox and crew, of Nomad.PDX, survived then thrived.
Although one can still say Nomad.PDX is a pop-up supper club, it now has a more permanent home above Anthony Garcia’s Shift Drinks. The road to getting there, however, is quite the story.
On the Move
The story begins with Ryan Fox himself, who embodies the name of his establishment. “I’m very nomadic,” he says with a wry smile. “I’ve been moving around since I was eighteen.”
And he’s not kidding. Shortly after reaching adulthood, Fox struck out from his home in a small town outside of Cleveland and headed to the Culinary Institute of America. After traveling around staging in various places, he would end up hitting pay-dirt in Las Vegas.
At only twenty-one years old, he got one of the most coveted jobs in the culinary world, a spot at Michelin three-star Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip.
“It was dumb luck really, getting in. Almost everyone was French, the service was run in French, and I didn’t speak French. It was brutal,” he deadpans.
Unsurprisingly, Fox was put through the ringer. “They were all in their late-twenties to mid-thirties and had worked their whole lives to get into this kitchen,” he explains. “Then comes along this 21-year-old American kid, and they let me know it.”
But this would be another tale of surviving and thriving, something Fox knows all too well. After earning his colleague’s respect, and working the hardest stations in the kitchen, it was time to move on.
After deciding he liked the buzz of Portland, Fox packed up and moved north. “I came out on a whim,” he says. “I heard they had great food, great produce, and great wine. It’s close to the coast and has everything you need to make a great food town.”
Having arrived with some serious credentials to back him up, Fox could aim as high as he wanted, and aim high he did. He would end up at Castagna, one of Portland’s top restaurants. Although he enjoyed his time at Castagna, he wanted to do his own thing. He quit Castagna and was set to enter into a partnership with a large downtown hotel, but the plans fell through, leaving him hanging.
He took a separate job, but all the while began piecing together the idea for Nomad.PDX. With the help of Ali Matteis, who spent time at New York’s Atera, Fox developed what might be the most unique way to fund a restaurant.
“Initially, we did ticket sales,” he says with a laugh. “We took money from the tickets and that’s how we purchased things.” It was this idea that spawned a nomad.
Becoming a Nomad
Many a chef will tell you that Portland has an incredibly welcoming food scene, something Fox was quick to find out. “The community of restaurant owners really helped us out. There were a few different people who helped us get started by lending their space to us,” he says.
Financially, Fox and Matteis started with nothing, so they learned to run a very tight kitchen while moving around for six months. Finally they landed a spot at Portland’s culinary prep space, KitchenCru. From there they hosted two truly epic 10- to 15-course dinners a week.
Still running ticket sales, Fox and crew would break out the whiskey on slow nights, partaking in shots with their patrons. Soon, word of mouth worked its magic and they ditched the ticket sales. Then they joined Open Table and all bets were off. “Once we did that, things exploded,” says Fox.
KitchenCru was working, but after working with Anthony Garcia at the famed Whiskey Library, Fox learned of a potential space above Shift Drinks, owned by Garcia and Alisa Moffatt. “They built a small space and showed it to us,” Fox explains. “A week later, June sixth, we moved in for a one-month trial. Business took off and within the first week he asked us if we wanted to stay.”
Stay they did, and ever since then the tiny 18-seat space above Shift Drinks has played home for the now-planted Nomad.PDX.
Food of the Land
As Fox explains it, he moved to Portland to “be closer to the ingredients.” With Nomad.PDX, he has stayed true to his initial ideal.
“We source almost one-hundred percent local,” he says. “It’s all organic, it’s all sustainable. Sourcing and technique are huge things.”
The way Fox combines sourcing and technique is evident in how he comes up with dishes. “We get out there and forage a lot, pretty much every week,” he says. “That’s a huge inspiration, just being out in the Oregon wilderness and getting involved with the farmers,” who he refers to as “rock stars.”
He explains the goal as being one of taking the experiences he has out in the woods and with the farmers, and translating those into what ends up on the plate. He even molds the experiences of the region around him into creative masterpieces.
“We have a dish right now inspired by the wildfire season,” he begins. “We light eggplant on fire and then make a baba ganoush out of the charred flesh. We reincorporate the skin and turn it into a charred baba ganoush with amaranth. We have sprouts popping up from the middle, which celebrate new growth.”
Works of Art
If that description doesn’t sound interesting enough, remember that you’re in for a 20-course dinner at Nomad.PDX; a veritable tour de’ force of flavors and textures. Although the menu changes depending on what’s available, you’ll still encounter some amazing treasures.
Delight in the savory with a pea gnocchi. Sound simple? Think again. It’s comprised of pea potato gnocchi, pea chlorophyll, pea tendril, pea flower, double shucked pea and pea powder. But don’t worry, you don’t have to pea fanatic to find pure joy in this dish.
On another night you might spot an egg in its nest. While it may look authentic, worry not. The only thing hatching out of this egg is intense flavor. The “egg” is formed out of almond ice cream and injected with egg yolk jam encased in seasoned goat’s milk. The “nest” is made of Kataifi dough that has been formed, fried, and seasoned with cacao and sugar. The final, exquisite touch is apparent in the garnish of toasted almonds and foraged herbs.
With 20 courses changing on a regular basis, there are simply too many wondrous creations to list. The only way to experience these true creative masterpieces is to pay a visit Nomad.PDX yourself.
With only 18 spots available three nights a week, reservations are highly recommended. Seating times on Friday and Saturday are at 6:00pm, 7:00pm, and 8:00pm. Join them on Sunday when they test new dishes and be part of creative process. There are two sets of seating times, first at 5:30pm, 7:00pm, and 8:30pm, then again at 9:45pm, 10:15pm, and 11:30pm.
Visit their website at www.nomadpdx.com or give them a call at 503.459.1986. They are located upstairs at 1200 SW Morrison Street in Portland, Oregon.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.