Introducing: Tanuki

Chef Janis Martin's newest location on SE Stark raises the bar on Japanese bar food.

By Benjamin Tepler February 23, 2012 Published in the March 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Tanuki tantan noodles ckc8or

Tanuki’s tantan noodles topped with a quail egg

THROUGH THE DIM RED LIGHTING, a constant stream of raunchy Japanese animation and Tarantino-style violence lights up TVs above while J-pop blares from a boom box in the corner. Tanuki’s new incarnation on SE Stark Street is a den of debauchery, with unbeatable izakaya (Japanese bar food) and a knockout drink list on the cheap. So consider yourself warned: the best way to enjoy a meal at this place is with plenty of sake.

The menu is a dizzying array of pickled plums, kimchi spice, and fermented noodles, but don’t panic—there’s an easy way out. Order omakase (basically “chef’s 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 dollars a head brings an onslaught of 12 gut-busting courses, from cinnamon-spiked, tea-stained quail eggs to Netarts oysters under an avalanche of shaved kimchi ice.

Martin’s menu is not for the cautious. Some dishes, like the tantan noodles—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 reinvigorated with spicy mayonnaise was an immediate favorite, with a texture like the world’s best jerky. Even as the 12th course approached, there was room for a huge slab of grilled river eel, its rich meat lacquered with a sweet, sticky glaze.

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

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