It’s the bustling, early dinner hour. Two master chefs in command of the sushi bar act like the artists they are, painting pictures with rice, raw fish, seaweed and micro greens. Despite the rush of customers and demand of orders, these two masters look up each time a new guest arrives at Miyake on Fore Street to call out a greeting in their native tongue.
Miyake moved to Fore Street, next to the Portland Harbor Hotel, in June 2011 from its original location on Spring Street. Just a year before, Chef Masa Miyake opened his second restaurant, the now booming Pai Men Miyake, a noodle house located in Longfellow Square. And he’s preparing to open a new Japanese-style pub at the original Spring Street spot in mid-October.
So, by the end of 2013, Chef Miyake will have a stake in three Japanese-style restaurants in Portland.
Each restaurant Chef Miyake and his business partner, Will Garfield, have opened in the past six years has had its own distinguishing characteristics – Food Factory Miyake was casual and off the beaten path; Pai Men is a hot spot for a hip, foodie crowd. And it occurred to a few people that an upscale sushi bar, such as Miyake on Fore Street, could be just that – a bar.
From the outside, Miyake looks like a ritzy Old Port eatery, with a modern, chic decor and high-end table service. But because of Chef Masa Miyake’s growing reputation as Maine’s Japanese culinary master, he and Garfield have keenly found a way to cater to the crowds.
Consider the beer list – a straightforward selection of eight brews under $8 and most around $4.50 to $5. And if done carefully, bites at the sushi bar won’t crush the bank, such as the $4 to $5 orders of nigiri or sashimi.
But I would be remiss to not call attention to what the restaurant prides itself on: the 4-course tasting menu ($50) and sake list (glasses range in price from $8.50 to $13 and bottles start at $22). Served refreshingly cold in a pristine wine glass, the silk-deluxe junmai sake ($9) was light with notes of caramel and honey. Non-alcoholic drinks include iced matcha green tea and sparkling yuzu lemonade, both for $3.50.
The four-course tasting menu is robust and daring and features items grown and raised on Miyake Farm – Chef Miyake’s family farm in Freeport – such as the Yaki Buta (braised pork belly with teriyaki sauce).
But half the fun is the view from the sushi bar. A long, pine counter seats about 15 and stylish light fixtures dangle overhead against a modern, asymmetrical ceiling design. The main dining area sheds a warm glow across the simple but sophisticated room.
Most nights Chef Miyake is behind the sushi bar with his crew, doing what some might call a graceful cooking dance – grilling pork on the hibachi grill or deftly plating lobster tail with a lobster carrot sauce. But on this particular night, the chef was traveling in his native Japan, gathering what I hope will be the makings of yet another burst of inspiration.
Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.