Tanuki sets an edgy table for Japanese izakaya – wild, wonderful and unfolding in multiple courses

By Benjamin Tepler December 21, 2011

Cinnamon tea-pickled quail eggs and a bowl of house-made kimchi

Through the dim red lighting, a constant stream of raunchy Japanese animation and Tarantino-like violence blares above the bar with J-pop caterwauling from a boom box in the corner. The only way to enjoy a meal at a place like this is with plenty of sake. Tanuki’s new incarnation on SE Stark and 81st, is still a den of debauchery, with unbeatable izakaya (Japanese bar food) and a knockout booze list on the cheap.

The menu is a dizzying array of pickled plums, kimchi spice, and fermented noodles. Don’t panic, there is an easy way out. Order omakase (basically “chefs choice”): you name the price, and chef-owner Janis Martin will unleash a parade of spicy, salty, and sometimes unidentifiable plates for the whole table. Twenty bucks a head bought us an onslaught of twelve gut-busting courses from cinnamon-spiked, tea-stained quail eggs to Netart oysters under an avalanche of shaved kimchi ice.

Crab claws wokked with ginger scallion sauce, star anise, and chilis

Martin’s menu is not for the cautious. Some dishes, like the Tantan noodle – a three-alarm fire of thick udon noodles, complete with scorching “chicken sauce,” fermented soybean, and raw quail egg – wrinkled some noses, and delighted others. A tangle of shredded, dried squid, re-invigorated with spicy mayonnaise quickly shot to the top of the list, with a chew and texture like the world’s best jerky. Even as we approached the twelfth course, there was room for a huge slab of grilled river eel, its rich meat lacquered with a sweet, sticky glaze.

Tantan noodle with spicy chicken sauce and fermented bean

Tanuki is Portland’s ultimate Japanese izakaya joint: dark, delicious, and requiring no forethought. Just say omakase (OH-mah-KAH-say)! Grab a bottle of sake for the table, and settle in for an evening of hard eating. Just remember the rules from the original Tanuki on NW 21st: no sushi, no kids.

8029 SE Stark St
Wed-Sat: 5pm-close (10pm or later)

Filed under
Show Comments