Sometimes the best places are the ones that aren’t so obvious. They’re the unexpected joys we stumble upon as we get to know our town and travel about. It’s in this spirit that the fine-dining seafood restaurant Roe exists.
Tucked behind the boisterous B&T Oyster Bar, Roe is an intimate 20-seat seafood extravaganza that is meant to be discovered and shared. At the helm is Executive Chef and Owner Trent Pierce, who burnishes his credentials with a James Beard nomination. Considering Pierce’s background, his popular restaurant and oyster bar should be no surprise.
An Oregon native born-and-raised, Pierce grew up in a family where food was the focus. Both his father and grandfather owned restaurants, his grandmother on his mother’s side was a chocolatier, and on his father’s side a North Dakotan farmer. As you can imagine, good cooking and the love of food runs deeply in his veins.
Yet even so, as many a young man can attest, the pull of athletics can be very strong. “I started cooking in the kitchen when I was twenty-two, part-time and at night,” Pierce admits. “I was kind of more focused on sports and that kind of thing.”
But even has he pursued two different interests, Pierce realized they weren’t so far apart, and that he didn’t have to look at it as choosing one over another. “I kind of found that the mentality I had for athletics – the lifestyle – you also have to have to be a chef,” he says.
Comparing being a chef to being a professional athlete probably isn’t too far off. As Pierce himself mentions, it’s a lifestyle. So, by 2007, he was working full-time as a sous chef at Volo in bend. When the great recession hit, however, he moved back to Portland.
Back in Portland, Pierce worked at Yakuza for a couple of years before striking out on his own. Then, after his first project, a restaurant called Fin, ended up short-lived, Pierce teamed with Kurt Huffman’s Chefstable Group to open Wafu in 2011, which was then transformed into Roe. “I didn’t want to reopen with the same name, but I also wanted to add a fine dining aspect to it,” he says. And this is where the basis for the name was born. “Caviar, you know roe, just kind of made sense,” he concludes.
It is an interesting juxtaposition. B&T Oyster Bar is laid out like a galley, sort of a really long hallway, with Roe hidden in the back. Although the space is small, the atmosphere is inviting, with soft Earth tones and a large tree mural painted along the back wall.
Once seated, be prepared for a seafood tour de force. “We don’t have anything else on the menu but fish,” Pierce admits. But don’t let the use of a singular protein fool you, there is artistry at work here.
The lobster roe gnocchi with lobster, bottarga, wasabi tobiko and lobster butter, looks as good as it tastes. The lobster butter shavings melt into the warm dish, letting a perfect creaminess replace their visual appeal.
In the mood for a lighter dish? At Roe, something as simple as Pho is elevated to another level. A Pho spiced beef consommé is delicately poured over cuttlefish and shaved wagyu with noodles, sweet potato hoisin, finger lime, thai basil and jalapeño. Make sure no one is watching as you put bowl to mouth in an effort to get every last drop.
Yet when you are dealing with a menu that focuses on a singular protein, you’ve got to make sure you are appealing to more than just the eyes and tongue. Pierce takes great care in making sure the seafood he serves is worthy of the Portland ethos.
“Most of our fin fish and some shellfish comes from the fish auction in Honolulu, Hawaii,” he explains. “We have a vendor down there who is very rigorous in their quality standards.”
And although Roe gets much of their finned product from Hawaii, for everything else they try to think locally. “We get a lot of regional oysters and Dungeness crab from Oregon and Washington. We also get what’s seasonally available for vegetables, produce and that kind of thing,” says Pierce.
As you make your way through Roe’s preparations, the seasonal and local flair will become apparent. Pierce takes great pride in the mutual symmetry of art and flavor. It’s a secret that can only be found in a small, non-descript restaurant behind a boisterous oyster bar.
Roe is located inside of B&T Oyster Bar at 3113 SE Division Street in Portland, Oregon, 97202. They are open for dinner service four nights per week, Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations are highly recommended and can be found at their Open Table site. Otherwise, they can be reached at 503.232.1566 – Website.
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.