Tour de Force on Fore Street
What sets Miyake apart from other Portland restaurants is not just the caliber of the food or the stunning décor of its new digs at 468 Fore Street. But, rather, chef and proprietor Masa Miyake has gone beyond what’s loosely deemed culinary fusion and cruises through a starry celestial spin around global cuisine that is nothing short of exceptional.
In the process he’s also gone beyond the mainstream concept of farm-to-table, which nowadays seems as common as cow’s milk. Instead he supplies his restaurant from his own farm in Freeport with organic vegetables and pastured chicken and pork.
The broad strokes of eating local have therefore reached a new plateau. Chefs who are also farmers give us a new pedigree to ponder as we navigate such rarefied food provenance.
And just maybe it’s all a bit over the top. Before we know it, city dwellers will be tending to rooftop crops and suburbanites will erect hoop houses instead of pool cabanas. It all sounds like the shenanigans of a New York Times food-page satire.
Still, however he achieves it, there’s no question that Masa’s genius in the kitchen — and his multi-layered approach to Japanese cuisine — is remarkable and highly regarded by a large local following. He’s not necessarily a trailblazer, however, in chef-owned farms. Cinque Terre was the first Portland restaurant to take home-grown so seriously. Their farm in Greene, Maine, has supplied the restaurant since the beginning.
With all this goodness in the offing, I decided at the last minute to go to Miyake a few days ago for dinner. The dining room, a study in simple luxury and striking design, was packed; I was lucky to get the last remaining seat at the sushi bar. Herein I admit that I’m a blasé fan of Japanese cooking. I like it, appreciate it; but call me a meat and potatoes kind of guy. That’s my thing.
Rather than ordering from the a la carte menu I made it easy for myself and let the restaurant guide me through my meal with their 5-course tasting menu. Dining at Miyake is not inexpensive. Entrees are generally in the $30 range and tasting menus start at $50.
A worldly tour of flavors, the meal started off with an amuse of quail eggs, braised daikon and arugula, a thoroughly elegant and exquisite beginning. Lobster sashimi followed, which was a stunningly crafted dish complemented with salmon toro — that part of the belly that’s so buttery tasting and fresh — and yellow tail (hamachi).
This was followed by trout with a succinct dash of kinome vinegar, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and mizuna crafting a piquant edge. It’s all so delicate under a wand of tantalizing flavors that in the wrong hands it could have been a muddle.
Glazed swordfish was another tour de force preparation, served under strands of fennel, snap peas, and bok choy.
The crowning glory of the tasting menu was the beef tartar, a delicious orb of raw beef that was perfectly seasoned. If I had any complaint I felt that the tartar should have been slightly more chilled.
Service is superb, with a knowledgeable cadre of waiters who know exactly what they’re serving and can explain each dish in glowing clarity.
Masa’s two establishments, Miyake and Pai Men Miyake, the noodle house on Longfellow Square, are an addition to the Portland dining world that should keep other chefs on their toes to maintain equally high standards and foster the city’s reputation as a food town. It makes you wonder if there will be a third act from Masa Miyake? Or more to the point, which culinary wunderkind will come on the scene next when we least expect it to lift our expectations once again just as Miyake has done.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.