Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Portland Day 1: Omakase at Tanuki, pre-thunderstorm clouds

This is post #1 out of 5 about a recent trip to Portland. Other posts in the series: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.

I got back from a five-day trip to Portland yesterday. This might be the very first time that I've written about a trip not months or years after I went on it – I'm hoping this trend means I may actually remember things that happened.

Here's a shot out of the window on the descent to PDX. Mt. Hood is the tiny white-capped peak in the distance.

After landing and retrieving our rental car, we promptly drove to our first meal – dinner at Tanuki. It's a tiny, eccentric izakaya-style restaurant serving Japanese and Korean "drinking foods" – small plates that pair well with sake, shochu, and Japanese whiskey. (We stuck with Sapporo. Sake to me tastes like alcoholic soy far nobody agrees with me on this.)

Tanuki is quite easy to miss. We drove by twice and didn't see it. Please note its "This is not a Japanese restaurant" and "No sushi, no kids!" signs out front.

Inside, it's dim and mostly unadorned. There are a few arcade machines in the corner and cult Japanese and Korean films playing above the bar (the ones I saw were pretty graphic). Everything was bathed in a red light, which makes for some horrific food pictures.

The reason why I chose Tanuki as a must-visit restaurant this trip: its unique omakase concept. You name a price between $15 and $30 (for each person at the table), and the chef will give you however many dishes based on how much you're paying. The waitresses bring them out one by one, and neither you or they know which ones will come out, or how many there are left.

It definitely made for adventurous eating. Here's the first spread:

Starting at the top and going clockwise:
- a bowl of edamame seasoned with lemon, sesame, and togarashi sea salt
- billowy kimchee + bacon + cheese brioche buns (a favorite)
- cinnamon scented tea quail eggs
- wakame salad with cucumber and lotus
- shredded dried squid jerky topped with Kewpie mayonnaise

And another favorite: a plate of chopped spicy hamachi, topped with tobiko and julienned cucumber. You spoon a bit of this onto the roasted seaweed, roll it up, and eat.

On the left: a dish with sweet fermented bean curd and wakame strips. On the right: a bowl of tender scallops in a sour citrus broth. On the top: a bowl of sliced steak and kimchee on rice. Not pictured: bowls of white miso soup to finish off our meal.

I really loved the "name your price" omakase concept.  We ended up going for $23 each and it was more than plenty – I was waddling post-meal and we also had leftovers.

After dinner, we went on a walk around the neighborhood – I think it's called the Alphabet District. There was an imminent thunderstorm, and the sky kept changing colors.

(Oh, and there's a slight rainbow in one of the pictures, if you look hard enough.)

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