Bread & Brew: Expatriate drinks, food display stamps from far-off lands
A new bar co-owned by Naomi Pomeroy and Kyle Webster certainly deserves special attention.
Pomeroy is one of the best chefs in Portland, and she’s been keeping herself fairly exclusively at Beast, where meals require a serious commitment — even brunch is a multicourse event. And Webster was formerly head bartender at St. Jack, where a lot of people fell in love with his floral, intricate concoctions. It turns out that one of them was Pomeroy: The two recently married.
Their co-venture is called Expatriate, evoking international romance that takes on an Eastern flavor as soon as you step in the door. There’s a warm scent of curry in the air. A showy moon gate from a Chinese restaurant is repurposed for a back bar. The cocktails have names to match: the Pegu Club, the Shanghai, the Habitué.
The menu takes the idea further. The description of the Pegu Club claims that “traces of ghosts remain from its origin at the edges of the British Raj (at the officers’ club of the same name in what the colonials then called Rangoon, lower Burma).” The drink itself is extremely citrusy, as if to ward off scurvy.
A cocktail called Ornament and Crime is more balanced. A base of good bourbon is bittered up with the Czech digestive Becherovka, freshened with lemon and sweetened with palm sugar, for a grown-up version of a whiskey sour. It’s got a solid structure that’s built for the long term — in other words, it doesn’t lose its appeal as the ice melts.
A more unusual drink is the Queen Elizabeth, which mixes dry vermouth with Benedictine. It’s a collision of herbs and liquor that creates an almost savory flavor, with lime as an intermediary. This cocktail goes very well with some cute little tea sandwiches — crusts removed — which are called James Beard’s onion and butter sandwich. Apparently Beard had the inspiration that thinly sliced onions have more crunch and more punch than the traditional cucumber.
The Anglophile angle stops here. The rest of the menu is Asian, with ingredients ranging across the map from China to Thailand to Korea to India — and to Trader Vic’s, for an upscale version of crab Rangoon made with Oregon Dungeness crab. Actually the crab inside the crisp wonton packets could have been a bit more tender, but the surrounding curry was fantastic, vivid with lime and basil and chili, and crunchy with dried peas and crisped maitake mushrooms.
In general, I am opposed to gourmet corn dogs, and Expatriate’s version didn’t do anything to make me change my mind. Mild Chinese sausage is wrapped around a stick, blanketed in sweet breading, and served with a dish of head-clearing hot mustard. Boring — but the french fries totally make up for it.
They have that perfect crisp-and-tender texture that comes from being fried for precisely the right amount of time, at precisely the right temperature, and they glow with spices. This is why the room smells like curry. They are served with three condiments: a curry ketchup, a sumac ranch, and, best of the three, a cool green cilantro-raita aioli.
All this care and detail requires money. Your bar tab can accelerate quickly as you sit in a shadowy corner, or on the most comfortable bar stools of all time.
There are votives and tall red candles flickering everywhere. The walls are black, and the ceiling is unfinished. Books are strategically strewn about, with appropriate titles like “Lost Horizon,” “Burning Desire!” and the definitive Kingsley Amis “On Drink.” But it’s too dark to read.
That’s the thing — at times this bar is too stylish to be practical. There’s no sign outside: You just have to know. The music is exclusively on vinyl, with turntables built right into the bar. On some nights, the staff plays records, and on others there’s a DJ crammed in behind the bar along with two servers and a bartender. The elaborate drinks take time to mix, requiring the bartender to shake and stir at top pace. So you’d feel like a jerk if you took the menu’s suggestion to “inquire for additional information concerning” aged rums, whiskies, and “unusual and delicious liqueurs.”
It’s a little cramped and hectic, and likely to become more so. With its pedigree and its compelling narrative, Expatriate is intriguing — and with a name like that, you can hardly blame it for being somewhat rootless and aloof.
5 p.m. to midnight daily, 5424 N.E. 30th Ave., no phone, expatriatepdx.com, drinks $10, food $4-$13