Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pai Men Miyake (Portland, ME)

After starting my holiday trip to Portland with a long awaited stop at Duckfat, on the 24th I had lunch at Pai Men Miyake, the casual accompaniment to Masa Miyake's celebrated Miyake restaurant.  Situated at the top of the "Old Port" section of Portland, Pai Men Miyake focuses on ramen (Pai Men meaning "100 Noodles" according to the website) blending traditional Japanese flavors with the use of local, fresh ingredients to create a truly remarkable meal.  Yakitori is available after 5:30pm, but since I was there during lunch and obviously could not have that, I went with the "Tei-Shoku" lunch special, choosing one option each from two of four "groups" of dishes, including dumplings, vegetables, ramen, and sushi; prices depend on what you pick.

I started with the pork gyoza, simple potstickers that did not outwardly look any different from any others, but are made with fresh, local pork and cabbage, with a nice, subtle flavor of each, a perfectly thin wrapper, and served with a light sesame oil and soy dipping sauce.  They were seared in such a way as to have a little bit of browning, and thus the accompanying flavor of a light pan fry, but without being really crispy; this is actually a good thing, as pot sticker type dumplings tend to fall apart if they get too hard a sear.  These were some of the better dumplings I have had, but the second I tried my sister's brussel's sprouts, I regretted my choice; more on that later.

For my primary dish I had the paitan ramen, with the traditional Japanese ramen noodles surrounded by a strong pork and chicken broth, topped with a little pork belly, half a soy marinated soft boiled egg, scallion, and a piece of nori (seaweed typically used to make maki rolls).  This is very, very different from the Korean style ramen of Manna House, but I wouldn't say it's better or worse; simply different.  I had them add the spicy garlic paste, but even with that there wasn't much spice, and the broth was lighter in color, though flavor-wise it was still intense.  The pork belly was good, though there was little of it, and the nori did not really add much, but the egg was remarkable; I'm not a big fan of soft boiled eggs, but this was so perfectly cooked, with such a delicate soy flavor enhancing the natural flavor of a really fresh egg, that I found myself wishing there were several of them. 

My little sister ordered the tokyo abura-soba ramen, which is simply the noodles, chili oil, egg yolk, nori and sambal (a spicy chili paste with a flavor similar to that of sriracha, though it is significantly thicker), without any broth.  Spicy and simple, this was really tasty, and not something I would have really given much thought to ordering, as it has neither broth nor meat, but this was just one of a couple dishes outside my normal realm of interest that surprised me that day.

My older sister started with the brussel's sprouts, as I said, and they god, they were good.  I can't even describe it.  A huge serving of halved sprouts, drenched in tamari (a soy sauce variety) and fish sauce, they are tangy and slightly sweet, roasted just to where the outside leaves are a little crispy, just inside are softer leaves, and then the core is just slightly crunchy, with a great bite to them that I have not been able to achieve when I've made roasted sprouts, and that I haven't really had elsewhere either.  These were by far the best sprouts I have ever had, and I'm really hoping to learn to make them the way that Pai Men does.

Her second dish was a pair of steamed buns, sandwiched around thin pieces of fried tofu.  I normally don't really like steamed buns that much, simply because they're rarely well made, and I almost never like tofu, for textural and flavor reasons.  Both were incredible.  The buns were light, porous, and slightly chewy, and the tofu had a slight crunch to the exterior that kept it from feeling like the spongy mess that I associate with tofu normally.  I have no clue what the tofu was marinated in, and I can't even describe its flavor, but it was really, really delicious, and went perfectly with the aioli-like mayonnaise that was lightly applied to the inside of the bun.  Since I liked it, I suspect anyone else trying it will too, even those who typically object to tofu; it really surprised me, and changed my mind a little bit regarding pressed bean curd.

With the exception of the gyoza, all the portions were pretty good; the brussel's sprouts came piled in a large bowl, and it took all three of us picking at them to finish without having my sister be full prior to the buns' arrival, while the bowls of ramen were plenty of food.  The gyoza had just four dumplings, which were not filling, but after mooching some of the sprouts and eating my ramen, I left quite satisfied.  For drinks, a number of local craft beers were available, both on tap and in bottles, with Smuttynose Brewing Company being the best represented.  I went with their Scotch Ale, a strong, heavy, and well made beer that may have been a little too much for this particular meal, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  My older sister had the same, and my little sister went with the Oxbow Saison Noel, a very dark representation of this traditional farmhouse beer, though it maintained the lightness and flavor of a normal saison.  All in all this is a fantastic restaurant, and I look forward to not only going back but also exploring its sister restaurant.  It's also very vegetarian friendly if that's your thing.

On a side note, both restaurants and the Miyake Catering business are served by Miyake Farm, where they raise fowl, pigs, and produce; this is true farm to table, in the purest sense of the term.  

©Miyake Farm


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