Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Portland Is For Sake Lovers: Miho & Zilla
Portland has a large number of izakayas and sake bars, so a sake lover can easily find a place to eat and sip some of his favorite sakes. The literal meaning of "izakaya" is a “sit-down-sake-shop,” though it now often refers to a Japanese bar that also serves food to accompany alcohol, which includes more than just sake. Izakayas originated in the Edo period (1603-1867 AD) when sake vendors began to provide tables and seats for their patrons, and eventually started serving some food with the samples as well. Izakayas are also sometimes known as akachōchin, which means "red lantern," because it is traditional to hang a red, paper lantern outside of an izakaya.
From the second picture above, you can see the traditional red lantern hanging outside Miho Izakaya in Portland. On an early Sunday evening, two Portland sake lovers, Dewey, of SakeOne, andMarcus, the Oregon Sake Manager for Young's Columbia, took me out to dinner at Miho. The restaurant, which opened in 2009, is named after the chef and co-owner, Michael Miho, who comes from Hawaii. Though I did not meet the chef, I did get the chance to speak with Michael Carothers, co-owner and bar manager, who hails from Tennessee. Hawaii and Tennessee uniting for a Japanese izakaya? Don't worry, it really works.
The restaurant has a small interior dining area, and its porch has a number of picnic tables for exterior seating. It is a very casual place, a great place for a group of family or friends to go out to drink and eat. As it was a beautiful summer day, we ate outside, enjoying the weather and waiting for the dishes and sake to begin to flow..
SakeOne. You'll find intriguing cocktails like "Little Debbie," a blend of shochu, grapefruit and ginger ale, and the "Lucky Rabbit," a blend of Silver tequila, Moonstone pear infused sake, triple and lime. Plenty of choices, no matter what your preferences.
I enjoyed a couple sakes, including the SakeOne G Joy, though was surprised that I actually liked a beer, the Lucky Buddha. It is a lager, brewed in China, from all natural ingredients including malt, rice, water and hops. It was crisp, refreshing and light, with a mild flavor. Plus it comes in a green bottle shaped like Buddha, which is very cool!
The food menu, which changes regularly, has over 30 items, generally small plates meant to be shared. The chalkboard will also have a number of daily specials, depending on what is fresh and seasonal. Prices vary from $2-$12, making this a very affordable place, especially considering the quantity of food on every dish. There is a nice variety of dishes, including vegetarian options, and most are Japanese inspired though a few have a Hawaiian flair. You probably will have difficulty narrowing down your choices as so much sounds delicious.
We selected a variety of dishes, and I was impressed by the freshness of many of the ingredients. Most of the dishes involved simple preparations, but they were expertly done, presenting clean, fresh and delicious flavors. The dishes tended to be light, and a nice accompaniment with chilled sake. After dinner, you will likely feel full, but not overly stuffed, so you will be able to continue drinking elsewhere if you desire.
I would certainly return here, to try more of their dishes and drinks. Tasty food, fine drinks and a good value make this an excellent destination. Miho Izakaya is impressive and I strongly recommend it.
Zilla Sake House, a sake & sushi bar, for more drinking. It is a small place, a cozy bar which seems to acquire the loyalty of many regular customers, who store their own sake cups here. Many of their customers are young people, the "future sake generation," which bodes well for sake consumption in the years to come.
Zilla sells beer, wine and cocktails but the heart of the bar is their sake. They carry 60-80 different sakes, and their sake menu is a small book, which provides useful information about the sakes. For a sake lover, this is paradise, with so many diverse choices available. From namazake to daiginjo, sparkling sake to nigori, there is much to entice any sake lover. We drank several different sakes, and bonded well over these delicious drinks. We desperately need a place like this in Boston.
I later returned to Zilla on Monday evening with my friend Gordon, and we drank even more sake. Zilla Sake was another impressive Portland destination and I highly recommend it to all sake lovers. I will certainly be back, on my next journey to Portland.
Many thanks to Dewey, Marcus and Gordon for showing me a brief sample of Portland's sake scene.