- Like most of Portland’s new restaurants, Izakaya Minato is smallish, but exquisitely-designed, evoking the essence of a neighborhood Japanese-style pub with an open kitchen and lots of communal seating, creating a friendly atmosphere. There is also a separate dining room for those who prefer a quieter experience. On both our visits, we sat at the bar, and had a very nice time chatting with both locals and tourists.
The bar has some very nice mixed drinks; my favorite is the plum vesper. As you might assume, this drink comes with a pickled plum as a functional adornment. What makes it unique is that taking small nibbles from the plum completely changes the taste of the cocktail from slightly sweet, to something that is a bit tart and more complex. Happy, happy! Even better, both bartenders we encountered (Isaac and Lucy), made outstanding sake recommendations. I always want to try sake, but know so little about the wine that I usually go with a beer instead. We not only tried several that we liked, but also consumed the wine in traditional styled cups that chef/owner Thomas Takeshita Cooke made himself! It doesn’t get more hands-on by the chef or locally -sourced than that!
There are a wide range of menu choices mixed about evenly between vegetable/rice, seafood, and meat-focused dishes. While those not familiar with Japanese dining might have menu-anxiety, these are mostly Japanese comfort foods with a universal appeal: soups, pancakes, fresh seafood, grilled meats, and fried chicken.
Also available for those that like a little surprise or help making choices is the omakase (chef’s choice) for $30–a great way to experience 4-5 courses that the chef feels are the best of the day. We took this route on our first visit and really enjoyed the experience: super garlicky edamame, a delicious soup of mushroom and eggplant (Nash Nemeko Oroshi), the sublime JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken), and a very nice fried rice with garlic scapes (rice is a traditional ending for this type of meal). We enjoyed ourselves so much that went back about week later. Standouts from our two visits were the beautifully/simply prepared sashimi and carpaccio dishes, including a stunning mackerel, salt-cured to remove its stronger flavors and leaving it with a perfect texture. Also fantastic was the richness of the JFC, which uses brilliantly-rich thigh meat and is served with a kewpie mayo, as well as the savory beef shorts ribs served with kimchi, and the delightful okonomiyaki (pancake) made with mushrooms and cabbage. All so beautifully-prepared, deliciousl-flavored, and comforting!
Having had at least 12 items from the menu, I hesitate to go through them all. Really the best way to explore the menu is to try it yourself. This I highly recommend; here are some photos for further encouragement: