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The foods I love

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Izakaya Minato: Chef-driven Japanese food

  • 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:

Fried rice and garlic scales @izakayaminato #sogood #yummy #portland #friedrice #maine #foodporn

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Had to have the mushroom and eggplant soup again @izakayaminato #sogood #portland #japenese #soup

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Insanely delicious JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken thighs) @izakayaminato #yummy #sogood #friedchicken #portland #maine

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Super garlicky edamame! @izakayaminato #edemame #portland #yummy

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Bonito and mushroom omelette @izakayaminato #japenese #foodporn #portland #omelete

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Beef short ribs with kimchi @izakayaminato #shortribs #portland #foodporn

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Salt cured mackerel, so very good!! @izakayaminato #mackeral #foodporn #japenese #portland

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Sashimi @izakayaminato #beautiful #portland #sushi #foodporn

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Tipo-opening January 11,2017

Scheduled to open this Wednesday at 4:00, my wife and I had a chance to preview the wonderful  menu at Tipo last night. Walking in to the bright, modern restaurant, I was immediately impressed by how open and spacious it is compared to so many of Portland’s other area restaurants. Definitely a place that one could go to with a group of friends or a couple of kids in tow.

Tipo offers a full bar, plus a few well-built cocktails with ingredients that play to the restaurant’s Italian focus.  I had the Il Moto.  Served in a rocks glass, it was a soothing blend of Italian liquor and vermouth, with hints of apple and plum. My wife went for the Il Maglione, served up and made with egg white, this foamy delight tasted of cardamon and lemon. The restaurant also offers a nice selection of Italian beers and wines by the glass and bottle.

The food menu is divided into five sections: raw, plates, pasta, pizza, and dessert.  As this was our first visit and a bit of a special occasion as Tipo wasn’t officially open yet, we decided to sample across the whole menu. However, I could easily also see this a great place to stop off for a glass of wine and a big bowl of pasta, or to pick up a pizza after work. The food was all so good and the menu so versitile.

Beginning with the raw, we ordered the sublime Maine scallop crudo. Bursting with fresh ocean flavor, and enhanced with Myer lemon, this dish was the one most reminiscent of owners Chris and Paige Gould’s acclaimed restaurant Central Provisions, but was still made unique by the addition of warm olive oil and bottarga (Italian cured fish roe).  Also from the raw section of the menu, the beef carpaccio somehow managed to far exceed our expectations. So tender and flavorful, the beef was reminiscent of the finest prime rib, and the smoked onion aioli and arugula elevate the flavors to a whole new level.

Moving on to the plates portion of the menu, I had a hard time limiting myself: meatballs and gravy, hand-pulled mozzarella, and wood-roasted vegetables. It all sounded so amazing that I wanted to order everything! I can see myself going back to sample more heavily from this section. However, on this first visit, knowing I wanted to try both the pasta and pizza, we limited ourselves to adding the winter greens salad. I am glad we did because it was excellent. So simple, yet delicious! Crisp mixed greens in pancetta, frico (fried cheese crisp), black pepper, and plenty of parmesan.  My wife and I devoured this crunchy, savory delight.

Then on to the pasta section of the menu–we were further impressed by the ability to order most of the offerings in either full or half sizes. Planning on also ordering a pizza, we settled in on the half-sized rye Cavatelli served with pork ragu, mascarpone, and oregano. I can’t stress how much I loved this–rich meaty flavors, combined with brilliant textures to yield pure joy!

At this point, you might think we would be so satiated to give up, but we bravely continued on so that we might share our experience with you, our dear readers. I am so glad we did because the pizza was fantastic!  The crust is very thin, yet somehow manages to be light and fluffy at the same time.  Each bite was a crispy, soft, charred pillow-top, with the most delightful flavors. We chose the lamb sausage version. With its middle eastern spices, plus feta and arugula, the pizza was both deeply satisfying and memorable. The same can be said for dessert, warm Zeppoli with peppered sugar, lemon, and ricotta. Combined with a cappuccino, this perfectly fried and spiced dough provided a sublime closure to our meal.




Il Moto

Il MAglione

Maine Scallop

Beef Carpaccio

Winter Greens Salad

Rye Cavatelli-half order

Lamb sausage pizza

A Preview of Tipo at Central Provisions

The following are photos from our fantastic New Year’s Eve dinner at Central Provisions. The evening’s menu was a preview of owners Chris and Paige Gould’s soon to open second restaurant Tipo, and the supremely talented Chef Mike Smith who will be overseeing its kitchen.

As I plan on visiting Tipo as soon  as humanly possible, I will mostly (but not completely)  let the photos from this brilliant dinner speak for themselves.

From the very first bites, it was clear that this pair of chefs really know how to meld contrasting textures and flavors in ways that build one upon the other, each bite a magical mélange: rapini with Spanish mackerel, mushroom ragu with chicory, dry-aged sirloin with charred traviso.  So synergistically yummy!!

Then there was the pasta. While I generally don’t consider myself a pasta person, the ones pictured below had such wonderful substance, flavor, scents, that I not only found myself devouring them, but I very well may dream of them (at least until Tipo opens). Such simple dishes perfectly executed: corzetti with squash and sausage and tagliatelle with white truffles! So deeply satisfying, especially on on cold winter night!

Stay tuned…

Caviar,Prosecco Mignonette

Marinated Spanish Mackerel Braised Rapini,lemon Vinaigrette, Calabrian Chili

Chef Mike Smith hard at work

Mushroom Ragu fried Polenta, Black Truffle, Cured Egg Yolk, Chicory

Corzetti Al Moto
Roasted Squash,Ricotta Salata,Spicy Pork Sausage

White Truffle Tagliatelle Fresh Alba White Truffles,Brodo, Parmigiana Reggiano

Dry Aged Beef Sirloin
Gorgonzola Marrow Butter,Carmelized Onion Jam,Charred Treviso

Warm Fried Zeppoli With Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato Shortbread and Ricotta Cream!