invoking the Pig, miyake, Miyake addiction, pai men miyake, pig tail, ramen

Getting Some Tail at Pai Men

A co-worker stopped me yesterday to inform me that he was finally making his way over to Longfellow Square to Pai Men Miyake for dinner.

Pork Belly Buns” were my first words to him.
“Pork Belly buns, check.”
“Oh and the Miso ramen.”

Today, as soon as his eyes fell on me, he started to smile.
“Pai Men, man. Wow.” You know my co-worker, he’s probably served you a drink or two at one of his other jobs around town, and he is a man who knows and loves his food. For the next ten minutes or so he went on about his meal.
“Brussel sprouts were ridiculous,” he started. Then, there was talk of dumplings of unremembered origin, pork belly buns, kimchi ramen, broccoli rabe and crispy pig tail.

“Pig tail?” I asked, eyes fighting to stay in my head.
“Pig tail. It was crispy and sweet. It had this amazing–I can’t even describe it–sauce on it.”
“Pig tail?” I asked again, obviously fixated. For all that I’ve eaten of the pig, I’ve only missed out on the nose and tail parts of “nose to tail” eating. This was not to be missed.

So, at 9am, I sent a text to the Missus to make our dinner plans. I had, without luck, tried to coordinate a date with her a few weeks ago and this would be a nice second go at it.

“Pigtail @ Pai Men. Can we go?”
“Um ok.”
“We just have to keep it cheap. So, no pork belly buns.” To be honest, I said this because we always have to have two orders(because one ISN’T enough) and that was going to take up what limited money I had put aside for dining out.

For the rest of the day I thought about pig tail.
How would it be served?
Would it be curly?
Would they serve more than one?

Now, at work, my eating habits and obsessions are pretty well known. My co-workers, the vast majority of them, are former restaurant workers and culinary school graduates. Food is not only something we live for, but how we make our living. So, discussions about food at work are basically a given. That, sports and music. For the past week co-workers have inquired about how the duck prosciutto, the one currently hanging in the Missus’ unused office, is coming along (more on that next week) or when my curing Canadian bacon was going to be finished. So, my becoming ridiculously giddy about pig tail hardly phased anyone and they humored me by tolerating my ramblings.

Then, joyously, it was 5:30pm and the Missus was waiting for our date. By 6pm, we were tucked into a tall table at Pai Men fretting over our menu options.

But, before we get into the food, the service deserves it’s own mention tonight. The two front of house staff–one male, one female–were on top of everything from the moment we sat down. The restaurant was, at 6pm, a third full which seemed just enough to keep them busy without seeming overstretched or under stimulated. The female, sporting a labret piercing, has waited on me before and it was nice to see a familiar face behind the bar. The guy, who may be one of the most attractive men this side of Ben Harper, was a wealth of information when I finally had the chance to ask about the pig tail dish. When we debated about whether or not to order two dishes–because we’re apparently gluttons who cannot share with each other–he actually talked us out of it and explained that many make the mistake of over ordering, getting too full too fast and ruining a good meal. He was right. After a few minutes of negotiating a few dishes to split, we were ready to order.

Squash dumplings with rinkson vinegar, brown butter and cauliflower.

This was one of my choices from the menu. Truthfully, I wanted some sort of vegetable represented–even if it sat in a small pool of brown butter–and I’m a sucker for cauliflower. Roasted, it’s nuttiness was played on nicely by the brown butter. Those two together highlighted the lightness of the dumpling, which was presented as a lighter interpretation of a sweet potato gnocchi.

Salt Cod Fritters with Sweet Mustard Sauce

Fried fish balls. I have to say that I don’t really have anything in depth to tell you about this dish. There was something really familiar about it…perhaps the cod fish cakes my mother made when I was growing up, but a lot better(no disrespect to mom). They were the only dish I didn’t mull over the flavors or textures on, nor did I think it was one of those dishes that required you to do anything more than to just enjoy it’s simplicity. I did notice, however, the presentation was a little wink to fried fish cakes being served in those red baskets at fried clam shacks.

Beef Negimaki Style with Diakon, Scallion and Teriyaki

Our server helped us with understanding what Negimaki was and then immediately told us that Pai Men’s version was nothing like it. He was right. There was no grilled beef, as their version was raw, and scallions were a bit hard to find in the dish (I couldn’t find any, to be honest). In fact, not only did it seem like it was a very loose interpretation of Negimaki but it also seemed like it was a loose interpretation of the ingredients listed on the menu. Teriyaki and Beef were obviously there on the plate but there was, as seen above, a good number of jalapenos and some unidentifiable non-strictly teriyaki sauce.

But, I do not want you think for a moment that any of this is a complaint. In fact, the scallions and diakon could be a part of the aforementioned sauce and we just missed it. There were so many flavors and textures in that dish that it danced a fine line between pleasant and overload. Every single bite presented sweet, salt, mineral and heat to the palette. But, the dish–whatever its components were that sat in front of us–was absolutely solid. The beef was sliced slightly thicker than the paper the menu was printed on and the portion was generous (and worth every penny of the price). I can’t get away from the cliche, “melts in your mouth” but that’s how tender the slices were. Easily in my top five for the year so far.

Crispy Pig Tail with Apricot Sweet and Sour Glaze and Jalapeno

Then came the dish of the evening. I don’t believe in getting your expectations up, especially when it comes to food, because it usually ends up where the fantasy, and how deeply you romanticized a dish in your head, gets dashed upon first bite. I worried so much that this dish would fall victim to that. Out of everything, I worried about the texture. I have gotten through brains, chitterlings and trotters and, though I did struggle a bit with the chewiness of the chitterlings, I made it through them unscathed. This fear was quickly dissolved the second the aroma of the dish drifted up from our table. I didn’t care what the texture was because it smelled amazing.

For as much as my friend raved about this dish and as much I raved about the dish while we were eating it, I know anything I were to write about the flavors that were there would do it absolutely no justice. It is, without question, the most remarkable sweet and sour sauce I have ever had in my entire life. In fact, I would like a teleporter to take me back to every time I had something labeled with ‘sweet and sour sauce’ just so that I can smack my former self and say to me, as I dump the nuclear red sauce on the floor, “Lies! This IS NOT sweet and sour sauce. Don’t eat their lies! The future will show you a true sweet and sour sauce!!”

When the waitress came over to fill out our water glasses she asked if it tasted as good as it smelled. It did, I told her and she needed to get herself some that evening. Her nose scrunched a bit and I told her that it was very reminiscent to a well done pork belly and I wasn’t lying to her. The texture wasn’t chewy, it was velvet and near falling off what little bones were hidden in the cut segments on the plate. Until the Missus pulled out an obviously tail shaped piece it was exactly how the waiter said it would be, unidentifiable as the back end piece of pig, but full of so much tasty pig goodness.

For good measure, to lighten things up at the end of the meal, we added on the crunchy tuna roll. But, in a restaurant whose main draw is to be the ramen, nary a bowl crossed our paths as we became to engrossed in the more interesting starters to even consider making room for the dense soup.

Pai Men Miyake on Urbanspoon

falling in love, first dates, how i met the missus, lovelovelove, miyake, my love, romantic restaurants

Second Chance At Our First Date

What does a lesbian bring on a second date?
A U-Haul.

It’s definitely one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true‘ jokes. But, the question to be asked now is, before the chronic cohabitation were to commence, where would said lesbian–this lesbian, in fact– take you on that ever important first date in Portland? That was our latest task given by A. for an early break in the ‘O-rama‘ series. We were asked to imagine, if we were just meeting our partners for the first time, where we would go on our first dates in Portland. It’s a fun thing to ponder as it’s been quite some time since I was on a first date.

The Missus and I have been together nearly seven years, meeting on a muddy path leading to the hell that was Coventry. Julia Child had died that day, and the Governor of New Jersey had just come out, and I do believe those two pieces were our ice breaker. We smoked the same cigarettes, we found out. Even had the same birthday (I’m a year older). We hung out that evening and I headed back to New York the next day, with the security group I was there working for. She gave me a hug that lingered the entire eight hour drive back.

We talked a lot on email. I left my marriage and she finally got away from her ex and their not so healthy relationship. We saw each other when we could and I moved here two months later. She often called it ‘serendipity’ and I have to agree. Had I not fallen in love with her, I would not be in this town that, with time, I have grown quite fond of.

My first weekend here is etched deeply in my mind. Our first date was Sapporo and I remember it was because there were Saketini’s.

It would be greatly different this time around.

I thought choosing an imaginary date would be fun, but it actually caused a bit of fluttering in my stomach as I thought over some possibilities:

  • Back Bay Grill: The scene of what has been our most romantic evening living here. Food. Ambiance. Service. Joy. All there for my 30th, her 29th, birthday.
  • Bar Lola: It oozes love from door to plate.
  • A world where Evangeline is still open: Because sweetbreads are fucking sexy.
  • Silly’s: Where a coworker recently went on her first date and I thought it was brilliant. The energy that pulses through there is awesome. The food is good and definitely covers the ‘something for everyone’ bill. It’s fun. It’s playful. It’s memorable.

But, they’re not quite… ‘it.’

My brain kept going back to Miyake. I could actually picture us having our first date there. I could see us sitting at the bar, because you MUST sit at the bar, sharing a bottle of sake and enjoying ourselves immensely. There is a nice intimacy to being at that bar, sitting next to–instead of across from–the person you’re on a date with. You have the honor of watching Chef Miyake behind the bar, hands and blade moving so effortlessly and delicately, as he prepares your meal. It’s conversation. It’s beautiful.

Then the sake begins to take effect, and the Omakase is hitting it’s stride, you can lean back and put your arm around your date. Brilliant.

And, of course, there is the food. The beautiful, beautiful–is that truffle oil?–beautiful food. I have fallen in love with, and over, that food so many times. But, how can you not fall in love with food so beautiful and so perfect? Even more, how can you not be caught up in the near rapture it causes? Every meal I have had there, every single last time, I have left light headed, happy and smitten…even when I have eaten there by myself. Even writing about it right now, recalling the delicate watermelon flavor of Ayu Shioyaki–one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten, I find myself with a smile.

I can even picture what we’d order–which may be a bit sad as it’s become our ‘standard’ order. I know we would order the Omakase lv.5 with the addition of any pork belly offered, miso black cod and the truffle oil topped baked scallop and lobster. I do believe there would have to be tea and creme brulee.

And the next day we’d be packing up a U-haul.

Miyake on Urbanspoon

And what did the other Portland bloggers have to say about a first date? You can read one here, another here, a third here, yet another here and here and, because we’re stealing her even though she wasn’t an official participant, a final one here.

bad memories, food poisining, miyake, momofuku, pork belly dreams, thanksgiving

Just Like The Pilgrims Had..

There was:
Shrimp and Artichoke dip
Ginger-Miso Green Beans
Black rice with Taro and Roasted Garlic
Momofuku style Pork Buns with Miyake ‘Special Sauce’
“It’s Not Libby’s….” Pumpkin Pie.

I boycotted Turkey again this year. I did feel a bit bad for the Missus as I completely forgot to break out the can of cranberry sauce out to make it feel a little more authentic. I couldn’t even get all of the ingredients for the pie right.
The interaction:
Me: What recipe are you using (for the pie)?
Her: I just use the one on the back of the can.
Me, realizing there is none: There isn’t a recipe on the back of the can.
Her: You didn’t get Libby’s?

This will be remembered not as the year I spent 12 hours recreating Miyake’s Noodle Bar Pork Bun recipe but as the year that I forgot to buy Libby’s. This will also be the year that I realized that the Missus near refuses to cook a recipe without following it exactly to the letter.

Me: Honey, we don’t have ground ginger but I have some fresh so you can just grate some of that in.
Her, reading the recipe: Honey, do we have ground ginger?
Me: No, that’s what I just told you.
Her: So, what am I suppose to do?
Me: I just told you.
Her: It’s not going to be the same.
Me: It’s fine.

Her: Do we have a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk?
Me: No, we have condensed and I thought it was evaporated.
Her: *sigh* What can I do?
Me: Use milk and half and half?
Her: Will that work?
Me: It’ll be fine.

This was the year of confidence building. It also marks the first time the Missus has really cooked for me in our new kitchen since we’ve moved. And, it may not have been Libby’s, but it was damn good.

miyake, new years, satiated

The End of 2009

Omakase 7 tasting @ Food Factory Miyake–with extras (as I could remember…there was a lot of friggin’ food). Corrections are more than welcomed (coughJoecough)

1)Amuse Bouche: Sardine marinated in Mirin, chilled and topped with sesame seeds

2)Kumamoto Oyster with pepper and scallion

3)Maine Shrimp Three Ways:
Ceviche w/Avocado
Sashimi w/roe
Mirin and Sesame

4)Scallion wrapped with Toro
Lobster tail sashimi w/garlic oil and chive sprouts
Big Eye Tuna sashimi
Salmon on lemon

5)Saltwater Eel w/brown butter, lemon and almonds.

6)Eggplant in brown butter with chicken mixed with tama miso.

7)Teriyaki Swordfish w/Taro gnocchi and dashi braised veggies

8)Scallop w/lobster on kewpie mayo w/miso and wasabi
scallion oil

pickled white asparagus

9)Black cod w/enoiki and shitaki mushrooms

Salmon with tomato

Japanese Snapper w/pine nut salad
Blue fin tuna w/shallot

10)Yuku Creme Brulee


While this was one of the shittiest years in recent memory, it was highly cathartic to end 2009 sitting at a table at Miyake. Over the course of two and a half hours, seated in the back corner with my partner, sharing pot after pot of tea, we ate away all the grief of 2009. It was one of those meals that you have trouble articulating after it’s finished. One of those “you had to be there” moments. Simply, it was my last meal of 2009… and it’s best.
Miyake on Urbanspoon