Food comes first at a restaurant opening in the space once occupied by Bima

It's prime Pearl District real estate Ñ mere steps from ÁOba!, Paragon, Le Bouchon and Holden's and, at 5,000 square feet, one of Portland's largest restaurant floors. But the space has sat empty, gathering dust and ghosts, for more than a year.

Well, Hai Nguyen and Theresa Shumacher, with many years of restaurant experience between them, are preparing to rip down the cobwebs and shoo the spooks out of 1338 N.W. Hoyt St.

Most recently, the location was host to the high-end but muddled sushi house Terra, which struggled to fill its seats and coffers during a short life.

But before that, successful Bima made the sprawling restaurant profitable by cultivating a fun vibe and a frothy bar scene, which was as big a draw as the food. It closed, in the black, so its owners could pursue other opportunities.

Nguyen, who has opened three Misohapi restaurants, and Shumacher, manager of BridgePort Brew Pub for five years, will take a page out of Bima's book and crib from the years they spent working together at Casa U-Betcha.

Casa U-Betcha, a Tex-Mex joint that resided on Northwest 21st Avenue Ñ where Muu-Muu's now sits Ñ made a big splash in the '80s. Its carnival-like look, created by Lee Winn, who went on to design Zefiro, stared down Reagan-era conservatism like a loopy Cheshire cat. It brought heady new life to a then-gritty area, and Shumacher, who was its manager, and Nguyen, who whipped things up in the kitchen, were part of it.

Their new venture, which Shumacher refers to as the No-Name Cafe for lack of a better interim name, also will serve Mexican fare. However, 'it's not going to be another Casa,' Shumacher says. 'In fact, it will be incredibly different.'

The new restaurant, which will offer lunch and dinner, will have a full bar but also cater to kids.

'It'll be the neighborhood place you go to after work because you'll know someone there,' Shumacher says. And, she says, it also will be affordable, the kind of joint where an enchilada plate with rice and beans costs $5.95.

'It's not going to be as authentic as Cafe Azul, but it's not going to be Chili's, either,' Shumacher says. In addition to basics such as tacos and quesadillas, it also will offer unusual items such as a duck confit tamale.

Frank Mendez, who has cooked at Casa, the now-defunct Fiddleheads and Salish Lodge, will be head chef.

Ideally, the new restaurant will open on Cinco de Mayo (May 5).

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