WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN The Miyake Diner occupies the original Miyake space on Spring Street.
Any competent marketing executive will warn you about the dangers of brand extension. Three is often one too many: Nacho and Cool Ranch Doritos, sure. But “Jacked” Doritos, no. Return of the Jedi was a treacly mess. That third Brontë sister was a disappointment. The looming Jeb Bush presidency petrifies. But do such mundane rules apply to a transcendent talent like Portland’s Masa Miyake (thrice recognized in this Best Of issue)? His new Miyake Diner, which joins his high-end sushi place Miyake and his noodle-centric Pai Men Miyake, offers a chance to find out.
Miyake’s new diner reclaims the location of his original restaurant, the wonderful Food Factory. The small space feels even smaller now, thanks to the curving bar along two walls. A single table, sort of picnic in style and size, is tucked in a corner. That little bit of the restaurant has been surrounded by old wood, floor to ceiling, which makes it look a bit like a sauna. The rest of the room is lighter, with the handsome 10-seat bar fronted by white walls and a large window.
While at Miyake Restaurant (on Fore Street), you gaze upon a mostly Japanese staff who work with silent efficiency; at the diner you are squeezed in with some white guys who do not seem particularly quiet. Who knows who’s in the kitchen? It could be Miyake himself. But you get the feeling it isn’t — that you’ve been handed off to the next generation and that the kids are in charge. And you wonder if these are mere adulators who have latched onto a virtuoso, or true coadjutors who inherited his spirit and skill.
The good news is that the kids are alright. While the Diner’s food and vibe don’t remind you of Miyake’s other spots, this rendition is masterful in its own way. The garrulous bustle suits its Izakaya menu focused on drinking and small plate snacks. Drinking mostly means sake, and they have an extensive list. The Kaori “fragrance” sake was sweet and mild, but with a kick of olive funk underneath. A Hakkasan had a pleasant hint of citrus and a strong floral aroma.
The food leans toward the rich, salty, umami side of the spectrum — with enough heft and grease to be good with drinks. Pork meatballs were shaped like glistening footballs, accompanied by a quivering egg yolk and chopped scallions. The yolk had a deep yellow-orange color and a thick creamy texture. The sausage was seasoned mildly so you could taste the braised meat’s own rich flavor, even when dipped in the yolk and sharp scallion. The okonomiyake pancake, made with cabbage, scallion, scallops and bacon, was dense and heavy with lots of breading. While the original Miyake Food Factory eschewed heavy sauces for sharp sprigs and sprouts, here there is a thick lattice of mayonnaise and plum sauce. Clinging to it all is a salty, funky pile of shaved dry fish. It blended into a pleasant and filling salty-rich mélange, as did a dish of eel paired with creamy eggplant.