November 28th, 2010 I moved to Portland, Oregon from Everycity, Arizona. I brought with me ambition, dreams of changing leaves, a thirst for discovery (and a dander-dispersing cat). Quickly settling into Northwest PDX, I was surrounded by fresh restaurants and shops, and a stream of locals adding to my list of places to eat and drink. A year later, that list is is 100+ strong and I’ve chomped at each location, eventually giving up on keeping track. Yes, Portland has made me a foodie, and I’ve spent a generous helping of time hammering out opinions about chefs, tasting livers, and imbibing with many. But even through all the interactions with epicureans, reviews and cheesy television – no one ever recommended what is now my favorite place; Tanuki. I’m not certain why the folks I know weren’t flocking. Perhaps it was the tiny, tiny venue, or the lowly lit tables, or spicy, beer-centric menu – at the end of the day, it’s their misfortune – Tanuki rocks.
One hungry night in May, my roommate and I tapped on Yelp’s shoulder for help finding provisions, and we struck gold with a review stating, “No Sushi, No Kids! Japanese drinking food. Crazy, insane, Japanese horror films and television. Beer. Sake. More Sake. Yet more Sake.” Sold, let’s go. Formally located on NW 21st and now, after a turbulent move and several month hiatus, they’re up and running on E 82nd and Stark! It was a much awaited re-open for me. After our first visit, I couldn’t wait to go back.
So, here’s the deal, I swoon over chefs and bartenders all over the city. I am slowly gaining knowledge so I can be “one of them.” It’s a very different world, being on the other side of the bar or table, and I am obsessed with learning about it. Going to Tanuki has sparked an infrequent “stalking” of Janice, the chef, her musings, and the “about” of the restaurant. If I had to describe her I’d say, “genius” because she has command over flavor that makes me delirious and she’s also quite the outspoken gal; consistently tweeting clever replies, politically based remarks, literary quotes, or just crass-awesome opinions.
Now I’ll talk about what to eat, what I got, and how awesome it all is. First round of business: the kimchi – pictured in the first photo. This is the best kimchi I’ve ever had. I know there are many folks out there that refuse to eat kimchi (be it the fermented aspect, or the pickling) but you simply must try this – it could change your life. No, it will change your life. If you’ve read my past posts you know that I can not stand pickles, doesn’t mean I don’t try them whenever I can, but I hate ‘em. That disdain overflows into numerous other pickled things, but Tanuki’s kimchi is the exception to that extensive inventory.
The sea creatures on their menu range in many directions from awesome to awesomer. Above-left are Oregon’s Netart oysters on the half shell with spicy kimchi shaved ice. Swallowing these babies it like pushing your orgasm button; pleasurable and leaving you wanting more. Pictured below that are clams covered in shredded pork and scallion – self explanatory deliciousness. The pic in the middle is squid jerky. Sounds weird to some of you, I’m sure. Don’t be afraid, their flavor is sweet, their texture is not-overly-chewy and it’s a very traditional Asian treat – little kids eat this, you can too. And, finally, on the right are kani (crab claws). These meaty crustacean hands are expertly prepped, then covered in a secret-recipe ginger, star anise and chili liquid. I heard the neighboring table ask Janice how she made this awesome dish. Her reply, “so many things, so many steps, it would take me too long to discuss.”
And now, my favorite part of life: meat. Tanuki’s menu changes often, so these items might not be available when you go, but you will be a lucky duck if they are. Starting at top left: kimbap, a traditional Koren dish of rice and other ingredients rolled into bite-size portions with nori or gim. Here we ate it with pork fu, sometimes called meat floss or meat wool, which is a dried meat product with a cotton texture. A scoop of that, a dab of rice, shove-in-mouth! Hands-on yummies! I like to cover mine in a dab of kimchi because that shit goes with everything! Then, after a bunch of pork cotton, dig into the picture below that of slow-cooked pork belly with seven-spice, shoyu, and roasted beets. If this dish had a website, it would be bombporkbelly.nom/om
We’re not full yet, folks, three more plates! Middle picture, and the highlight of my night, rare hanger steak, marinated in kimchi and served with gailan (Chinese broccoli). So tender, so good, so bloody. If you are sharing this plate, you better “steak” your claim because everyone will be grabbing seconds. Lastly, in the far right picture, are my favorite noodle dishes. Tantan: Kagawa style udon covered in chicken-peanut sauce, lime, scallion and raw quail egg. Dee-lish-us. And, finally a cleverly put together bow of rice, minced duck hearts, tofu, seaweed, sauces, veggies, egg and other things. I ordered this one to eat for street credit, and I loved it.
To sum up Tanuki: eat there. When you go, be ready for a wait – go to Roscoes or Country Cat for a pre-drink, then order a shit load of sake and beer with your food at Tanuki. The end!
Here are some other reviews about the place. I swear, it’s so good, what are other restaurants for?!