How can you not love a Japanese restaurant that is balls enough to put that on their sign out in front of their place in this annoyingly PC age of businesses/people not wanting to offend ANYBODY?? That was the first hint of edge at our recent visit with our friends Denise and K the other night for her b-day dinner to Tanuki over on NW 21st Avenue here in PDX. The second bit of edge was when we told them we had a group of four, and they said they didn't have four tops. Hm, okay...well then maybe they could pull those two two-tops together? Which is of course what happened, and from that little get-to-know-the-rules moment on we had what was the best Japanese food I've had in Portland. It was so good it was reminiscent of our recent visit to the temple of Japanese haut cuisine that is Tojo's in Vancouver, B.C. Not quite on Tojo's level of exquisiteness or artistry, and not quite the same stunning best-of-everything ingredients (and the equally stunning tab at the end), but the same course-after-course of thoughtfully prepared food, with that Portland indy style. I mean you're sitting in a tiny shoebox sized place at Tanuki. That ain't no place to be putting on airs!
We had been advised to order (like at Tojo's) omakase style, which is what American restaurants would call a chef's tasting menu. Only at Tanuki, and this is the part I loved, you tell them how much you want to spend per person and the chef tailors a meal of small plates for your group around that. Whatever the kitchen is digging, that's what you're eating. We asked the server what would be a reasonable amount per person, she said $20; we went for $30 each, and proceeded to have maybe 8, 10,....I don't know, maybe 12 different plates of food to share? The amount of food that kept coming out of the kitchen was staggering, and the quality was shockingly good. I guess I had my usual lowered expectations for Portland Asian food going in, but at Tanuki they really seem to have the "feel". I can't remember everything we had, it kind of became a blur of flavors and textures, but I do know from the generous portion of hamachi (above right) we started out with on through an amazing plate of creamy, umami-laden sea urchin (above left), to grilled skewers, to "tanabata" kimchi, to whatever else found its way to our table, I was pretty blown away. For $30 a pop, this was a steal, and adding on the recommended bottle of sake and a couple of beers only added on to my pleasure. I'd go back and get my Tanuki on in a second. Now I'd heard from various people that they love the food but the service wasn't all that warm and fuzzy.Tanuki is definitely a place where it's their playground and their rules. Personally I get/appreciate that. Besides I'm not looking to hug my server, and if you keep throwing down food this good, this creative, for this cheap then I'll take some edge!
Also for you Twitterati, you should follow Tanuki's quite amusing tweets: @tanukipdx