Portland blinked and a ramen hub became a fish house. Chef Trent Pierce's ramen spot Wafu was incredibly popular in its SE Division Street home, but Pierce was aching to try something different. "My heart just wasn't in Wafu," he said. "It was a conceptual restaurant." So Pierce took the space and transformed it into Block + Tackle, a seafood restaurant rooted in his personal history.
In the sixties and early seventies, Pierce's family owned a fish house called the River Queen in downtown Portland. Look around closely in Block + Tackle, and you'll notice that the light blue walls are dotted with black and white photographs snapped from Pierce's childhood, mostly taken at the Oregon coast. Other nautical touches float throughout the space: a refurbished boat steering wheel here, a hand-drawn seascape on the chalkboard oyster list there. Even the back of the bar is lit with an aquamarine glow.
Block + Tackle isn't Pierce's first shot at serving Portland seafood; in 2010 he opened a modern take on fish called Fin to much fanfare, but the restaurant didn't last long. This time, Pierce tested the waters in the back space of Block + Tackle (then Wafu) with an exclusive and special-occassion small restaurant called Roe, which is open just three days a week. "The response from Portland has been great," says Pierce. "Diners have really been open to me pushing the envelope with seafood."
The menu, which features seafood dishes and a few salads, has some staples like a Fish Sandwich ($11) with pickled ramps and tartar sauce, and Clam Chowder ($7) with house-made oyster crackers. European influences appear throughout, like the Clams and Chorizo ($12) in saffron white wine broth, and the Grilled Octopus Salad ($12) with chickpeas, frisee, and a Sherry vinaigrette.
When asked about the decision to have an all-seafood menu, Pierce replied with a shrug and a smile, "We originally had a steak on there, but just no one seemed interested."