Deciding between dishes last night at Tanuki, the server stepped in with a suggestion and description for something I was debating: "Delicious - it's like a kim chee snow cone - with clams!" She was serious, and so was this dish, a neat pile of super-fresh clams, boiled and chilled, topped with a shaving of this intensely flavored shaved ice. And thus began an unbelievable meal in a tiny Portland saké bar that, if replated and presented in a fine-dining room, I have no doubt would recieve rave reviews and critical acclaim.
But the chef here loves her drinks, loves her bar, and, I think, loves calling the shots. She is adamant about her "no kids allowed" policy, and sends out daily irreverent messages to her Twitter followers like this recent one about her Monday night pork belly special, "if a pig was willing to give his life for me to boil his belly in booze the least ya'll can do is come & eat him." Her style is pretty brash, but the flavors in her food are exceptionally elegant, like another dish we shared of warm, tender, barely poached scallops in a chili-lime broth, adorned with fresh mint and cilantro leaves. Her stuff is so innovative an experimental at the same time - soft scrambled eggs topped with toasted coconut and whole dried anchovies, fried in something tasty plus palm sugar. None of her seafood is fishy, it's just hands down delicious. And so well balanced. We also had the night's $3 special rib bowl - short ribs cooked till tender in a tamarind sauce, over rice with an asian pear and radish salad on top. The kim chee itself was full of ginger and citrus rind...I could go on, but I'd rather just go back - as soon as possible!