Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A trip to Portland Part 3: Tanuki

This is the third entry in my three-part installment about a field trip to Portland, OR. I hope you enjoy. Fuckfaces.

This place is one of the most hard-core artistic visions you’ll find in the culinary world. It’s an izakaya: a Japanese-style sake house which serves food. A glance at Tanuki’s website might be a bit off-putting, because the list of “no’s” is longer than a horse cock: they don’t take reservations. They don’t accept parties of more than 6. No kids allowed. And they don’t sell sushi.

But this maddening persnickitiness is in part due to logistics: proprietor Janice Martin only has 3 employees, and turns over Tanuki’s 18 seats thrice daily, using a veritable toy kitchen comprised of two hot plates and a small oven approved for use in reheating pastries in coffee shops. So the embargo against large parties is warranted. Plus, lots of small, chic restaurants don’t take reservations. And they don’t allow kids because the giant flat screens, which in most bars are typically tuned to some variety of sporting event, at Tanuki are usually displaying porn, horror movies, or at the very least, smutty cartoons.

Is the food worth all of this weird bullshit? Short answer: Fuck. The. Yes. This bar is the true expression of an auteur’s vision. There is a pretty extensive drink menu, with many different varieties of rare sake, as well as Japanese whiskies, none of which are excessively expensive. This is Portland, remember. As for food, there is an a la carte menu, but don't consult it. The omakase menu is where it’s at. Don’t be a pussy. Trust the kitchen. You can tell them how much you want to spend, and they bring out dishes depending on how cheap you’ve chosen to be. We chose to be pretty cheap, so they only sent out a few things.

Starting with pickled quail eggs: these rich little nuggety nuggets were pickled in tea, served cold, were densely packed with the kind of flavor that only a game bird’s fetus can provide, and with a pleasant backdraft of cinnamon in the finish.

Next up was uni. If you’ve ever eaten it, you know that uni is probably the most polarizing food item on earth. I’ll be up front: I fucking hate it. Sea urchins are covered in SPIKES for a reason: because they DON’T want their testicles eaten. Yes, you heard me, you fucking uni fans, who shall subsequently be referred to as unitards: the slimy orange goop, which you chumps think is an aphrodisiac, is actually the urchin’s BALLS. So eat balls. Personally, I prefer my urchins to sell matches on the streets of London. But we ate all of the uni. Testicles, after all, should never go to waste.

As if they anticipated that I would need a palate cleanser after gulping down a slippery tongue of slimy orange urchin testicles, the next course was kimchee. Sometimes I’m on the fence about kimchee. It can be good, or it can be really nasty. Kimchee you buy from the grocery store, for instance, is fucking rank: when you open it the jar immediately emits an old-man fart. But Tanuki’s kimchee is the tits: made in house, this kimchee is briny and sour, with a raking spiciness on top.

Following the kimchee was boro. These were thin sheets of rice noodles, delicate as an elf’s hymen, stuffed with shredded wild boar: bantam-weight dumplings. They were carefully layered with noodle and meat, with an herbal mélange of basil et al, so that it ended up seeming rather like a really shallow asian lasagna.

The finale was hanger steak. We got a small pile of steak, sliced and shingled neatly on the plate. The steak itself was caramelized a fuck on the outside, as rare as a beating heart on the inside. This was served in a beguiling pool of mahogany sauce, as rich and sumptuous as the drapes in a prime minister’s office. This sauce dropped like a savage umami bomb on the tongue, scratching every itch and playing with my taste buds as though they were a million miniscule clits: this sauce, I was later told, was composed of pan juices from the steak thickened with, of all things, rabbit kidney.

And we got all of this for $55.

There was no dessert. I don’t even think there is a dessert menu, which is all well and good, because authentic Japanese businessmen getting shitfaced at an izakaya after work don’t eat desserts. If they want something sweet they buy used schoolgirl panties. Or you can try the kimchee/ bacon/ cheese buns, big cloudy balls of brioche filled with the eponymous ingredients. These are singularly delicious and will annihilate your hangover before it’s even hatched.

Tanuki isn’t perfect. It’s not the easiest place to get into, and the kitchen sometimes gets asymmetrically overwhelmed during peak dinner hours. Some people complain that the service can be brusque, but if you’re looking to be fellated by a sycophantic waiter who writes his name upside-down in crayon on the table, and refers to your party as “Hey guys,” then go the fuck to Cheesecake Factory or some fucking shit like that.

My advice is to drop in to Tanuki around 9. The suckers will have cleared out by then, and it has this weird college dorm after-party vibe to it. Go hungry. And thirsty. Or else.

Rating: 9 Japanese horror movies out of 10 Tanuki is located at 8029 SE Stark St in Portland OR They don't take reservations. Don't even try. Tanuki on Urbanspoon