Wednesday, October 07, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: Yakuza Lounge

I have to warn you, this is a spoiler alert: I really, really liked Yakuza over on NE 30th & Killingsworth here in PDX. Part of owner Micah Camden's mini-empire on K-worth, this is the place that started the izakaya, or Japanese eating/drinking bar, trend here in Portland. I had always hesitated to go until my friend DOR talked me into it the other night. Luckily I agreed, and proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable eating experiences I've had in recent weeks. A very well designed place, with a bar to the left, tables ringing the walls, and long, wooden community tables with benches in the middle of the room. Nicely lit with a warm glow, and on nice evening a very cool outside area in the back that is completely open to the main room. I would call it romantic, but I don't want DOR...or get the wrong idea regarding my preferences.

So what was it about the food? You can start with the incredibly creative, fresh, and quite affordable takes on Japanese food. Call it Japanese with a new world twist. I'm not a big fusion fan, but here at Yakuza chef/owner Micah Camden (pictured at top in photo from Yakuza's website) makes it work. A traditional izakayas isn't going to have a burger on the menu, but here they do, and it was stellar. More on that beefyness later. The reason I like going out with DOR is that he is up for everything. Sharing that important sensibility with me, we dove in, starting our feast with Kyuri; an order of tempura sweet corn; and shredded, filo wrapped sea scallops (pic below). The only one that didn't work too well was the sweet corn tempura ($6), which was over-battered, drowning out the fresh corn kernels. The Kyuri ($7) was a Japanese cucumber and avocado salad tossed with togarashi (7 chili) dressing and sesame seeds. Fresh, bright, flavors that popped. Then the dropped the scallops ($9) on the table. First off, visually this was stunning. I assumed it would be pieces of scallop wrapped in sheets of filo. What came out were the airy puffs you see in the picture, sitting on top of a "creamy spicy sauce". The flavor, as is not often the case, was every bit as delicious as the presentation. One of those things that is enough to get me back on its own.

In quick order, the rest of our order quickly got dropped off by our server, who was very nice and who seemed somewhat bemused by our lack of appetite restraint. Hamachi ($14, pic at left), thinly sliced, lightly dressed with jalapeno lime oil and house ponzu, with an herb-daikon salad was exceptional. The hamachi light hints of the fresh sea and salt, and was not at all overpowered by the dressing. Following this was two orders of house futomaki (rolls). The first was Unagi ($8) which is something that w has gotten me hooked on. There really isn't anything wildly original or mind bending about unagi, it just tastes so good. Then up was the "Really Spicy" ($12, pic at right), which was not REALLY spicy, but was quite good and again, like so many bites at Yakuza, quite attractive to gaze upon: yellowfin tuna, cilantro, Thai chilies, creamy spicy sauce, sriracha, and avocado. Yeah, it too tasted as good as it reads.

Then it was time for dessert. Or almost time. On our way over to Yakuza, we had stopped for a quick pop at Beaker & Flask, where owner Kevin Ludwig mentioned to us he had heard the Yakuza burger was not to be missed. So, there we were at our table after eating all this food and the burger was still hanging out there. Burger...dessert....burger...dessert...or, wait a about the burger FOR DESSERT?? Of course, problem solved. And thankfully this light bulb went off, because I think this may be a burger ($12) I would put on the same elevated pedestal that previously been the sole preserve of the Castagna Café burger. A tender, perfectly seasoned and medium-rare patty of beef from Highland Oak Farms, and tucked inside with Cypress grove chevre and crunchy shoelace potatoes. If the scallops didn't force me to come back, the burger did it! I am not easily taken in by supposed great burgers around town. I was by Yakuza's beefy perfection.

Oh, and we did have dessert, too, just because sometimes enough isn't enough. A sake-poached Asian pear ($7) with shiso whipped cream and crème anglais. Did we need it? No. Did we like it? Yes. For refreshment we had two different bottles of white with dinner, the best of which was the 2007 Capitello Sauv Blanc from New Zealand (actually a NZ sauv blanc made, oddly enough, by an Oregon winery). You got the spoiler at the beginning, which is the perfect way to end this post!
Yakuza Lounge on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Great description. I've always liked Tanuki and Biwa so I'll have to try Yakuza one of these days. Another Oregon winery that goes to NZ each year to make a Sauv Blanc is Sineann (Peter Rosback owner/winemaker)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a different burger than I did. Yuzu and koshou infused onion rings to spice up an overly mild Kobe beef patty that could have used either browning or salt. It was pretty lame.

Plus, as an Asian guy, I was called a banana by my sister for going somewhere as pretentious and white as Yakuza.

bb said...

anon1...I just had the Sineann pinot noir from New Zealand yesterday. Don't exactly get the "coals to Newcastle" thing there, especially when he wants $36 a bottle for it!

anon2....I guess I did, thankfully! Obviously speaks to some consistency issues in the kitchen.

And man, tough family you have there. What, if you're not in some noodle joint slurping pho then you're betraying your culture?? At least they have chopsticks!!

dp said...

You know, I went here about a year or so ago with the girlfriends, and had a bad experience with the service and the food was only so so. We actually enjoyed the more non-Asian items better. Maybe they were just having a bad night. I'd like to try again soon.

bb said...

we had really good service, but I can see how you might not have. kind of a hipster aren't we cool attitude. but man I loved the food. And to your point about the non-asian things being so good, that's why I was so surprised by the burger!