New World Order

By Camas Davis May 19, 2009 Published in the December 2006 issue of Portland Monthly

It’s not that sayonara and domo arigato have worn out their usefulness; it’s just that after dining at this muraled and moody, wood-toned lounge near the corner of NE 30th & Killingsworth, customers will find they’ve actually expanded their Japanese vocabulary. As action film buffs already know, yakuza is an alias for the Japanese mafia, whose pinstripe-suited gangsters would fit right in among the dining room’s dimmed, hushed swank. Even more central to the experience here is the term izakaya, which in Japan refers to the ubiquitous eateries where businessmen and students alike can gather for a cold beer or a cocktail and a few small plates. The tavernlike concept has gained in translation at cosmopolitan hubs like Vancouver, BC and Los Angeles, where izakaya joints are often sleek affairs, serving cuisine that’s more along the lines of new wave fusion.

At Yakuza Lounge, chef Micah Camden mostly takes the experimental approach from his gleaming open kitchen. Along with excellent sushi and sashimi, he plates seared yellowtail topped with ponzu sauce and jalapeño salsa, for instance, or a warm frisée salad accompanied by shiitakes, lardon and a breaded and deep-fried poached egg. And while classic Asian ingredients (Thai chiles, sesame seeds and wasabi among them) appear in just about every dish, seasonal Western elements (such as fried goat cheese, grilled hanger steak or pan-fried chicken) also figure heavily into the polyglot culinary equation.

Such Japanese-inspired global cuisine–combined with communal tables, a diverse list of beers and cocktails and a shared plates philosophy–means all manner of cabals can be hatched at Yakuza Lounge.