Deliverance: Pai Men Miyake
Chef Masa Miyake weaves his mastery of Asian fusion beyond the realm of typical Japanese cookery in Portland, imparting flavors that are at once provocative yet essential. His Pai Men Miyake, a sake and noodle bar newly established on Longfellow Square, is a stunning example.
Nothing else in the city tops his reach. But wait until Masa himself unveils his newest venture—a revamping of his full-service Miyake dining room on Spring Street in an incredible steel, glass, and brick interior space on upper Fore Street.
That said, it’s also worth noting that Longfellow Square is becoming an enclave of very fine dining: Petite Jacqueline, Pai Men Miyake, Boda and the long-standing but much improved Local 188 are the key anchors on the square. The space vacated by the book shop on Pine and State streets will hopefully attract another innovative dining pavilion to tempt us.
What I like best about the noodle bar are the small plates. On many occasions I’ve ordered from the dim sum type starters preceding the ramen bowls only to encounter too much food. The bowls are very filling, very good and a shared duo of starters is sufficient to complement ramen as your main course.
Among the many starters the squash dumplings are my favorite. They seem to float like fluffy cumulous puffs with staying power--as delicate as the best type of gnocchi but loaded with flavor. They’re cloaked with rinkosan vinegar, brown butter, and cauliflower lending an otherworldly aftertaste that remains with you quite delightfully.
Maine shrimp croquettes with a ginger sabyon and topiko or the Brussels sprout salad with a fish-sauce based vinaigrette, a compound of complex flavors, could easily transport you to thinking that you’re at the Franco-fusion table at the fabulous Daniel in New York, where Masa had a significant stint before coming to Portland.
The pork buns are another must have. Inside a dense, if not somehwhat chewy, bun are thick slabs of roasted pork belly with pepper relish and gochujang mayo, a thoroughly exotic type of fermented chili paste, rice powder and soy paste. There’s just a touch of it but enough so to make this rich filling brilliantly irresistible.
Interestingly if you order the pork buns on a weekday they’re served steamed but on weekends they’re baked as though for someone special. The latter style is my preference and almost gives one a hint of exotic Chinese fare, which is certainly nonexistant north of Boston’s Chinatown.
But such culinary idiosyncrasies are common at Miyake.
When it first opened, for example, I went there for lunch on a particularly raw late fall day looking forward to a steaming cup of tea to start only to be told that the kitchen was set up to serve ice tea only. Come again? I was so taken aback that I blurted out, “Can you boil some water?”
Soon after they started serving hot tea, though I’m not sure if iced tea, which was very good, is still on the menu.
The rolls—tuna, cooked salmon, or sweet tofu—are joined by avocado, oven roasted almonds, and spicy kewpie mayo. Not really an ardent fan of rolls, sushi, or sashimi (what am I doing in a Japanese restaurant?). I’m very at ease with these dishes. This is also to say that I’ve been easily won over to everything I’ve had at both of his establishments.
In the last year, newly opened restaurants of a certain caliber all over Portland have ingratiated a seriously receptive dining public that expects a unique twist from each. Imagine the likes of Walter’s, Havana South, Sonny’s, Figa, Petite Jacqueline, Pai Men Miyake above and beyond the established cognoscenti compared to former days when decent food and a few rickety tables and chairs sufficed to make an impression.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com.