If Johanna Ware's fried kale isn't the New Bacon yet, expect it to be. And soon.
While you can seemingly do anything with kale—you can cook it into a salad, blend it into a smoothie and dry it into a chips—the best way to make it just might be be the way Ware makes it—tempura-fried, bathed in fish sauce, scattered with mint and sprinkled with (what else?) bacon. Candied bacon.
Since she's opened Smallwares's doors, Ware's sorta been Portland's "It" girl. And there's a reason for that. Her proudly "inauthentic" approach to pan-Asian cuisine is always artfully prepared, and always surprising—small plates from her raw bar change daily, but they're always done up with something that makes your ears stand up. Think of "invisible" ingredients like chile oil that you don't know you're gonna taste or feel until you do.
But with her fried kale—a dish inspired by her time cooking at NYC's momfuku’s ssäm bar (that one used Brussels sprouts) and that slowly evolved over time (Smallwares’s kitchen fried butternut squash, then rapini, before settling on kale)—Ware has turned a superfood into a comforting and crunchy snacker. The leaves are surprisingly sturdy and, well, it's made with fish sauce and bacon—two of the most perfect ideas ever dreamt up—making it a reliable anchor on a delightfully fluid menu.
Start there, then eat your way through the rest of it.
Smallwares, 4605 NE Fremont St., 971.229.0995