Wares is the exciting new revival of Johanna Ware featured in the Zipper building on NE Sandy in Portland. Once you walk into the restaurant, the charm and eclecticism of smallwares is still present. What’s different this time, to say nothing of the size of the restaurant, is the fast-casual style of service and menu, but Johanna maintains her creativity and ambition in the dishes.
We sat down with Johanna in her new place, discussing her inspiration and what has changed since the closing of smallwares. During her time off, Johanna realized that she could only see herself running a restaurant. Wares just fell into her lap and she loved the space.
Wares stands out among the rest of the restaurants in the shared space, with a vibrant red sign and quirky accents along the walls and cash wrap. There’s more of a family-friendly vibe featuring candy and tables decorated with cards and toys. The food is as complex as it is fun and playful.
The blend of her fine dining experience (Public and Momofuku) and inspiration from her mother, who is an experimental cook who loves to entertain, are ever present in her food. Each dish is a mosaic of flavors. I ordered the 6-minute egg, roasted squid, and a simple rice bowl; each dish had a complex palette of its own. A seemingly classic rice bowl was elevated by her creative combinations of spices and garnishes.
Johanna explained that a major inspiration for her food is her own culinary memories and past experiences- they drive her technique and menu. Memories that carried a lasting punch of flavor or special element are incorporated into her dishes. She has specialized her own Asian fusion to a point where each dish has an air of eccentricity and can be identified as Johanna Ware. These inventive dishes take you out of your comfort zone and offer the chance for you to create your own culinary memories. Personally, the chinese mustard punch in the six-minute egg will be calling to me for years to come.