Monday, December 9, 2013
Today marks the launch of a "new concept" at Miyake, the restaurant at 468 Fore St. headed by the talented Masa Miyake.
Don't worry. If you already loved Miyake, the rug isn't going to be pulled out from under you. The changes that are being made are designed to put customers more at ease and offer them more choices on the menu, which will "still be Japanese but a different interpretation of it," says manager William Garfield.
I was lucky enough to attend a preview of the new tasting menu Sunday night. (Photos below and at MaineToday.com.)
Garfield said they want to highlight more ingredients from the Miyake farm in Freeport, as well as showcase Miyake's considerable skills with various cuisines in a better way. That means no more generic sushi items on the menu.
"We will still do rolls for lunch, and we'll do a set bento box as well," Garfield said. The box will contain six items that change daily, and will be offered Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
The restaurant is also going to be encouraging a more relaxed atmosphere at dinner, a shift that came in part from customer feedback. When Miyake moved from its old Spring Street location to its new home on Fore Street, "we put ourselves more into a fine dining situation," Garfield said.
"But we want people to feel comfortable coming in for just one course and a glass of wine, if that's all they want after work," he said, "without feeling like they have to come in and spend $100 a person if they don't feel comfortable doing that, or if it's not a special occasion."
If a customer does choose the prix fixe tasting menu, there will be four choices in each course, and those will change daily. That's a departure from the chef's choice omakase menus Miyake has been known for in the past.
"We've had some issues with the omakase," Garfield said, "with aji, for example - the horse mackerel - if that goes out on a plate and a customer has a strong dislike of the oily fishes. We want to put a little bit of the power back in the customer's hands as far as the decisions they make with the tasting menu that also allow Masa to use his creativity and skill set to develop something that people haven't seen in Portland yet."
Here's the preview Masa Miyake prepared for us Sunday night. My dishes were paired with "fortified" sake, a couple of glasses of Ichishima Tokubetsu Honjozo chosen by the staff:
The menu started with an amuse, a trio of very light bites that got us off to a delicious start. From left, herring with sheep's yogurt, green apple and pine nuts; green papaya salad; and scallop and shiso mousseline with yuzu koshu remoulade.
My favorite was the herring, partly because of the contrasting textures but mostly because of the lovey, mild sheep's yogurt. It was just a small amount that left me wanting more.
The first course was a round of omakase sashimi. Again, Garfield told me this would be just one option for a typical first course, but the first course will always have a raw component. Other choices might include a nigiri option or a vegetarian salad option.
The plate included tastes of kinmedai, kampachi ( in the yellowtail family), lobster and beni. Maybe it's because I've lived in Maine for so long, but the lobster was my favorite.
The second course, inaniwa udon, was perfection. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsels of butter-poached monkfish sat atop the noodles swimming in housemade broth, along with broccoli rabe that had just the right amount of crunch left, a shiitake mushroom, daikon and yuzu ankake, a poached egg white mousse.
Here's Masa making the broth:
Our third course was rabbit from the Miyake farm, prepared several ways. There were two sets of ribs, one percehed atop roasted eggplant with white poppyseed, the other on an oyster mushroom. The tiny ribs were tasty but difficult to pick up with chopsticks, so I just picked up the tiny bones with my fingers.
Also on the plate were bites of loin, a tiny rabbit kidney and a sausage Nikuman bun. Scattered around all the components of the dish were salty sea beans.
Here's Stan Dzengelewski preparing the sea beans:
Garfield said the third course will always be a meat course. Later this summer, that may include pork from some of the heritage breeds they are raising at the Miyake Farm. There are currently five breeds at the farm that are not yet ready for slaughter, including American guinea hogs that will not be ready for slaughter until July or August, Ossabaw Island hogs, and rare Mangalitsa hogs that will not be ready until November.
The Mangalitsa, Garfield said, is a Hungarian heritage breed, and Miyake may be the only farm on the east coast that has them right now.
"I've had it once in New York," Garfield said. "I've had Mangolitsa bacon. It's got a very high lard count, so for pastry it's very desireable, and then the meat itself is very marbled. I'm looking forward to trying those out. We're able to up our production right now because we have a relationship with Infiniti where we take all their beer mash and take it out to the farm to feed the pigs."
American guinea hogs are a better-known breed with rich-tasting meat but not much lard. Garfield says it's similar to boar.
"They do a lot of eating and rolling around in the grass," Garfield said, noting that they are waiting 16 months to slaughter them. "The longer you go, the more texture you get in the meat."
Our fourth course was a selection of Miyake-style nigiri. As I moved from left to right, each taste kept getting better, until I got to the mackerel, which I admit is not a favorite fish of mine. Mackerel lovers, though, will love this preparation.
From left to right: H-toro aburi, lightly seared with a blow torch (which gave it a lovely smoky flavor) and topped with fennel, soy and mirin; hamachiwith truffle oil, mioga (a Japanese shallot) and pine nuts; salmon toro with sauteed kumato tomato; and aji (mackerel) with ginger and arugula.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod