Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tanuki- Japanese Drinking Food

Before I went to Tanuki, I heard mixed reviews. Most foodies raved about it, while I heard other complaints like “It smells like fish” and “It’s too dark in there.” Well, I’m not afraid of the dark and if the smell of fish means that there is fresh, high quality fish in close vicinity, then I’m there. I went in with high expectations, which generally means I may be walking away disappointed. Fortunately, Tanuki lived up to the hype and I am dying to go back and try more of their offerings.

I went with my buddy Adam and we started by grabbing a good bottle of sake. I don’t know much about sake and didn’t bring a pen, so I won’t try to describe it. Either way, it was a good accompaniment to our $25 Omakase meal. Tanuki is a Izakaya, a Japanese drinking den that serves food accompaniments. It is one of several Izakayas popping up around Portland. Other restaurants of similar style include Ping, Biwa, and Departure. The interesting thing about Tanuki is that it is in a tiny little spot off NW 21st Ave. It’s dimly lit and the owner/chef Janis Martin runs the whole show. She does all the cooking and is constantly on the go trying to please all of her customers. Somehow she manages to get everything out and I imagine most walk away quite pleased.

The menu has several interesting offerings. However, the best approach is to order Omakase style. You have to go in open minded, but if you do, you will be kindly rewarded. Ordering Omakase style allows the chef to customize your dining experience. Now you don’t have to go in completely blinded. The chef is willing to take many things into consideration, including dietary restrictions and food choices. Adam and I had no restrictions so we let the food flow. Janis starts by asking what you are drinking and immediately picks good dishes to accompany your beverage(after all it is a drinking den). As the dishes came out we were asked other probing questions to see what our preferences were, such as “How spicy do you like your food?” and “Are you starting to get full?” or “Are you thinking your next course should be heavy or light?” If you do a $25 Omakase, they likely won’t permit you to leave hungry at all. After some sake infused math I came to a total of roughly 10 courses. THAT’S $2.50 A COURSE. And the food is high quality too. Janis changes the menu daily and revolves it around fresh seasonal produce and fresh seafood from her distributors. I won’t try to recount all of the courses but some of the highlights were fresh Uni (sea urchin), Hamachi toro (yellowtail belly), Oysters with kimchi shaved ice, Kimchi fried rice, and spicy hamachi and maguro hand rolls.

It was amazing to see a place that was able to hold up to the hype. I got the opportunity to talk about Tanuki with Janis for a little bit and to introduce myself. She clearly feels passionate about what she does. She wants food with integrity. She is trying to give all people the opportunity to access great food. She provides customizable meals, using quality ingredients at extremely reasonable prices. Tanuki is a special place. It’s a place to go with friends to get good, interesting food and to catch a buzz. I suggest getting down there and supporting Tanuki. When we left I couldn’t help but hug Janis, and she didn’t even freak out. They are doing a real cool thing at Tanuki and despite all of the great food in Portland, we need more of this love. My only gripe is that its across the river-- this place has East side soul.
Oysters With Kimchi Shave Ice (Amazing)
Yellowtail Belly
Uni (Also rediculous)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Le Pigeon- Awesome Burger

So a few weeks ago Sarah and I had our first meal at Le Pigeon- a great Portland based French restaurant. The meal was amazing. Everything was rich in butter- French cooking style. We sat at the chef’s counter observing the masters at work. While there, something caught my eye-- a beautiful burger. Now, I thought I had a decent grasp on the high quality burgers that Portland had to offer (Slow Bar, Sapphire Hotel, etc.). I would in no way consider myself an expert, but for a while these two were battling for best PDX burger that I had exposure to. When I saw this beautiful mountain of cow butt, bread, lettuce, and other greatness it left me in a trance.

Well, last week Sarah was out of town and I had to drown my lonely sorrows in something. You guessed it, the burger at Le Pigeon. I got there early, about 5:45 or 6. Rumor has it they only serve 5 of these a night, so you have to get in early if you want it. The place is small too, so don’t bring the whole crew for the perfect burger. I would suggest going in ninja style, maybe 3 people max. When I went in it was pretty dead being so early. I immediately sat at the chefs counter. I don’t even know why they brought me a menu as I had tunnel vision. So I order it and at $9 for the burger with potatoes and $11 for the burger with mixed greens it is clearly comparable if not cheaper than any other high quality burger in town. I opted for mixed greens as I was already feeling guilty as I have already fallen off the diet wagon, for the most part. I waited around and chatted for a while with my neighbors and the servers….

…Then it arrived in all its glory. Let me describe this thing as best as I know. From what I gathered this thing is about ½ pound, Strawberry Mountain (Local as hell ) beef. Its hand pattied and cooked to order perfectly. This is a top notch PDX restaurant, so you can’t expect less. It comfortably lounges on a nicely fluffy and chewy ciabatta roll. I watched the chef spread some mustard on the bun and I wouldn’t be shocked if it were not made in house. Next, there are some pickled onions placed gingerly on top of the burger, which also has some sort of quality cheese melted on top of it. Now, heres where it gets interesting. They have some juliened lettuce, that’s tossed in a dressing, that the sous chef carefully places on the burger. He then puts the lid on it and sticks a knife down the center, as this thing HAS to be cut in half. There may be more to this I’m missing-- my bad.

Anyways, this thing is a giant mess of awesome. I was sitting in this intimate French restaurant grubbing tough and spilling burger all over my face. It was great… I don’t think they would offer it if they didn’t know that would go down. It may have been the best burger I’ve ever had. I have heard about some other good ones around town and I will have to test them and report back. In the meantime, if any of you guys want to get a burger, hit me up and we will sneak in ninja style. (Maximum of me and you)