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Pendleton restaurateurs feel the ‘love’ by changing it up — again

Ross Norton //May 29, 2024//

Erica Song is the welcoming face of the restaurant named in her honor, helping guide the strategy as Erica — Wood Fire Bistro & Oyster Bar leaves its Yolk origins behind. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Erica Song is the welcoming face of the restaurant named in her honor, helping guide the strategy as Erica — Wood Fire Bistro & Oyster Bar leaves its Yolk origins behind. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Erica Song is the welcoming face of the restaurant named in her honor, helping guide the strategy as Erica — Wood Fire Bistro & Oyster Bar leaves its Yolk origins behind. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Erica Song is the welcoming face of the restaurant named in her honor, helping guide the strategy as Erica — Wood Fire Bistro & Oyster Bar leaves its Yolk origins behind. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Pendleton restaurateurs feel the ‘love’ by changing it up — again

Ross Norton //May 29, 2024//

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If love is sometimes measured in anger, it’s safe to say Troy Song has felt the love in recent years.

He felt the love when he dropped the most popular item from his Clemson restaurant, Yolk Asian Kitchen, and started making pizza at his new place, Pendleton’s New Yolk Kitchen, just a short drive away for his loyal patrons. But many of those patrons were angry when they showed up and the rice bowls were off the menu. It’s become something of a pattern.

He introduced sourdough pizzas and made things better in Pendleton but, for a time and by necessity, he dropped them, too, when his oven went down for a prolonged period. Let them eat sushi, he said, and worked up a menu of unique sushi creations that built a fan base from miles around.

So he was ready for the anger — that is, the love — when in March he dropped not only the sushi, but the restaurant’s name as the menu evolved and changed. The sign change was abrupt: “New Yolk Kitchen” replaced with “Erica” so fast people thought the former was out of business.

Erica — Wood Fire Bistro & Raw Bar is open five evenings a week.

“When I moved to Pendleton I kind of wanted to carry the legacy of … Yolk Asian Kitchen. People got mad at first when they found out I didn’t have the rice bowls,” he said. “People would get mad or drive away. So it was hard for a while. But now I feel like it’s time for me to move on. No real ties to the old Yolk anymore. I just wanted to dedicate this restaurant to my wife.”

That would be Erica. As one of the old rice bowl fans, she was a loyal customer at Yolk Asian Kitchen. She loved the food first, then the man behind it. Their marriage became official on the dining room floor at New Yolk Kitchen. And before the restaurant carried her name, she became integral to the business.

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The sushi is out, Erica Song said, for the simplest of reasons: at the level they made it, it was too expensive for the menu.

Troy Song focuses the energy he once put in sushi dishes onto a cut of beef, a new addition in the evolution of his menus. (Photo/Ross Norton)
Troy Song focuses the energy he once put in sushi dishes onto a cut of beef, a new addition in the evolution of his menus. (Photo/Ross Norton)

Moving onto that menu space, she said, will be steaks and burgers. Already added to the menu is a lineup of fresh oyster choices.

“We have a few varieties of oyster that can be wood fired or served raw,” she said. “It’s really fun learning the varieties and the contrasts between varieties because there’s really something for everyone if you’re into it, and it’s really neat to fit an oyster to a person’s personality.”

The menu is still evolving but is expected to include baked clams, raw clams and other shellfish.

“We’re going week by week, trying to adjust and bring adjacent menu items while finding that best trajectory with the raw bar,” she said. “It’s a really humbling experience as well because people are coming in and saying, ‘But the sushi. …’ It’s humbling because you know you really had a good thing going. But we also have the energy he harnessed into sushi and he will now harness it into what we have next.”

The pizzas are here to stay, but don’t look for the pepperoni pizza that makes kids so darn happy. Erica’s sourdough crust pizzas are the likes of the Funghi Pizza with crimini mushrooms, ricotta and truffle oil; or the PBS, with pepperoni, bacon jam, sausage, mozzarella and tomato sauce; or the Honey Belly, which boasts pork belly, arugula, smoked mozzarella, feta and honey. A nod to Song’s Korean heritage is the Red Trinity Pizza, with pork belly, kimchi, mozzarella and tomato sauce. The white pizza section of the menu includes the White Yolky Mountain, with egg, crimini mushroom, feta, mozzarella and truffle oil.

The pizzas were not part of the original plan when Song moved from Clemson to U.S. Highway 76 in Pendleton. But the new place had been a pizza shop, and it had an Italian oven.

“If you have a Ferrari in the garage, why not drive it?” he said. “Once I found out this place had an Italian oven, I had to use it. I always loved pizza but I didn’t know how to make pizza so I had to learn real quick.”

The changes seem to be converting the anger-love to love-love as patrons explore options beyond the pizza section of the menu: wood fire baked salmon with zucchini and roasted potatoes, angus ribeye, bone-in porkchops and other creations are becoming favorites, often leaving the dining room booked by the time the doors open.

Erica Wood Fire Bistro & Raw Bar is open 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.

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