We braved the towering snowbanks and poorly shoveled sidewalks to walk down to Izakaya Minato, the newest addition to Portland's Washington Ave., last night. This petite Japanese eatery opened a few weeks ago next to Terlingua and has gained an instant following within the neighborhood. The bar has been consistently full the few times I walked by after its opening.
When we visited, there was some seating available at a communal table, but the hostess offered us a table in the dining room—which I didn't even know existed, since it's not visible from the street. There's another room off the bar that has table seating for about 20. The whole place has a very homey vibe and was full of friendly people. We waved to some neighbors, and throughout our meal compared rave reviews with the couple seated at the table next to us.
Once settled with our menus we checked out the drink choices. There's a selection of Japanese bottled beers, mostly local drafts, sake, and cocktails (many made with sake). I went with a ginger kombucha from the Urban Farm Fermentory and turned my attention to the dinner menu.
The menu has a good mix of vegetable, seafood, and meat dishes, as well as noodle and rice dishes. While there were many items we wanted to try, when our server came, A. ordered sashimi omakase for two (market price that night was $14 for one serving) and three other dishes. As is common in small plates restaurants, we hung onto our menu in case we wanted to order more food later.
The sashimi came first, a beautiful arrangement of uni, scallop, tuna, fluke, and...ah, shoot, I was on a roll there, but forget the last one. The plate also had artful arrangements of thinly sliced vegetables and herbs that added some flavor zings to the cool, fresh fish.
Our server came back to check on us and declared the uni his favorite—I had to tell him it wasn't mine, but that I was working on it. I think that's the first time I've ever had straight uni; usually I encounter it in other dishes. It has a buttery texture, but a pretty strong briny flavor that, like oysters, may be an acquired taste for some (including me, I guess!).
We finished all of our courses before the next one came, which was kinda fun—we sat eagerly awaiting the next surprise.
Our next course, the kani dashimaki or crab and egg omelette ($9) was juicy and savory. So much flavor was packed into the thick slices of egg. The pile of shreds on the plate was daikon radish with some soy sauce, which I didn't love, so I went without after sampling it.
The tsukune shiitake arrived next—mushrooms stuffed with chicken sausage and served with chili Kewpie mayo ($8). Fortunately, they were sliced in half (we all know how crazy hot a stuffed mushroom can be) since we devoured them so quickly. The little caps were salty, savory bombs and dragging them through the spicy mayo gave it a smooth richness. If I had any food guilt issues, this dish would have triggered them!
And lastly, another savory meat treat—the kalbi or Korean-style short ribs with kimchi ($14). These thinly sliced ribs were doused in a spicy, sweet sauce then charred on the grill, and the combination of crispy fat and tender meat was addictive. They're also fun to eat, gnawing around the bones for little bits of flavor. The kimchi added a nice crunch and cut the fatty meat with its tart, fresh flavors.
Deciding that we'd ordered the perfect amount of food, we declined another round and dessert as well. Our tab came to $76 before tip (includes three kombuchas), which while not cheap, was a fair price for the high-quality seafood and skillfully prepared small dishes we enjoyed.
My takeaway is that Izakaya Minato a great hangout spot that's different enough to feel casually hip, while the food is a good mix of the familiar and novel. As of now, the Izakaya opens for dinner at 5 p.m. and is closed Sundays.