Living in Peru, where Cantonese and Japanese immigrants reshaped the local cuisine with their native flavors, must have rubbed off on Alex Diestra. The executive chef of Saucebox in Portland, Ore., is eager to embrace diverse Asian ingredients.
However, when Diestra took over the kitchen of the Bruce Carey Restaurants concept two and a half years ago, he inherited a menu of mainly Thai and Vietnamese fare. One of his first moves was to widen the scope.
“I figured this restaurant is called pan-Asian for a reason, so I decided to explore further,” says Diestra. “My menus are well rounded with Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese and Burmese. We cover a lot of countries.”
One of his riffs is Adobo Pork Shank, which differs from traditional Filipino adobo by adding Thai chilies and coconut milk to the customary vinegar, soy and garlic braising liquid.
Steamed Clams with kaffir lime, coconut milk, leeks and Portuguese sausage, served sizzling in a cast iron pan, reflect the colonial influence on the region’s fare. Bearing a distinctive Japanese stamp is the signature Hamachi & Avocado starter—sashimi-style yellowtail combined with avocado, ponzu, daikon and shiso.
Desserts are distinctive, too. An example is Almond Cookie, studded with chopped, toasted almonds and served with condensed milk-miso ice cream and caramel.
“A lot of people call us a fusion restaurant, but I don’t agree,” says Diestra. “What we actually do is grab one item that we like and present it in a different way.”
Menu Sampler: Saucebox, Portland, Ore.
Daily Oysters, apple kimchi, cilantro $18
Vietnamese Salad Rolls, mango, peppermint, vermicelli noodles, tofu $7
Javanese Salmon, spiced sweet soy sauce, spinach, fried leeks, lime $25