While rapidly ascending in the Portland restaurant scene, Han Oak briefly offered a walk-in-only dumpling-and-noodle night on Sundays and Mondays. Chef-owner Peter Cho beamed at the opportunity to offer slackers and service-industry types the chance to experience his James Beard-nominated Korean fare in a low-stakes environment, where '90s hip-hop blared and irreverent noodle dishes like housemade SpaghettiOs dotted the menu.
Prior to setting up shop there, Pisha-Duffly and his wife, Mariah, ran a hauter concept out of Langbaan, with dishes like banana leaf smoked duck and an incredible Dungeness crab laksa included in the $40 admission. They've since streamlined, swapping the prix fixe format for a menu centered on just a few bowl-based dishes that do an exemplary job showcasing what the couple does best—pan-Asian stoner food that's as richly multidimensional as it is satisfying.
After a quick jaunt through the menu, it's easy to imagine Thomas Pisha-Duffly being left alone as a hungry teenager in his Chinese-Indonesian household, upgrading cheap foodstuffs with luxe ingredients relatively unknown to most American families. This is more or less the MO of Gado Gado, and it was wildly successful on our recent visit, which found the shop at capacity 30 minutes after opening and completely out of food within a couple hours.
The most exotic dish is the Wok Fried Four Treasures ($15), which is a simple mix of peanuts, thick noodle rolls, daikon, baby bok choy and four different proteins tossed in herbs and served in a cheap, white takeout box. A loose interpretation of Gado Gado's namesake Indonesian salad, it is a hodgepodge of stuff that, truly, just tastes good, which is the principle Pisha-Duffly puts to use now that he's in business for himself. It might sound trite when your favorite band says they're just making the music they'd like to hear, but the effect it has on the food at Gado Gado translates to pure, populist joy.
Case in point is the black truffle carbonara ($20), a starchy umami bomb with truffle flavor exploding from every corner. A salted duck-egg yolk and wild mushroom truffle butter tie the heap of angel hair noodles together wonderfully, but the generous sprinkling of truffle oil potato chips is where Gado Gado leaves its mark.
With the "Thursday Gravy" bakso ($15), Pisha-Duffly takes spaghetti noodles and glams them up with pork belly and clam meatballs, basil, crispy fried peanut flakes and a pork hock ragu you'll have to stop yourself from scooping the last remnants of out of the bowl with your fingers. Like the carbonara, it's a turn so simple and thoughtful you'll wonder why you can't do it yourself in your own kitchen at 3 am. The short answer is because Pisha-Duffly has years of experience in top-shelf kitchens—including Beard-nominated Asian fusion spot Honey Paw—but don't let that stop you from putting furikake and Chinese sausage into a can of Chef Boyardee if that's your thing.
And when you realize it's just not the same, Gado Gado will be waiting for you, at least until the end of December. It's unclear whether Gado Gado will disappear as quickly as it came, but you'll get a few more chances to experience it for yourself, which you should absolutely take advantage of. The Pisha-Dufflys still have to figure out the supply-and-demand ratio, but they've already struck a chord that puts them in the position of being well worth the buzz.
EAT: Gado Gado is every Thursday in December at Sammich, 2137 E Burnside St., 503-477-4393, gadogadopdx.com. 9 pm-1 am.