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)
Uni (Also rediculous)
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