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Biwa to Reboot as Two Eateries: A Sashimi Chef’s Counter and a DJ-Spinning Japanese Bar

On October 16, Portland’s DIY Japanese pub pioneer moves down the hall to become Biwa Izakaya. The original space will become Parasol Bar in November.

By Karen Brooks October 5, 2016

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Owners Kina Voelz (left) and Gabe Rosen (right)

Image: Karen Brooks

Most restaurants mark a 10-year anniversary with a booze-soaked party and a greatest-hits menu. Biwa, a leader in Portland’s Asian-riffing “drinking food” culture since early 2007, decided to simply blow itself up. Eat Beat has learned the Japan-meets-Eastside Portland pub at 215 SE 9th Ave will evolve into two new neighboring spots, Biwa Izakaya and Bar Parasol, each with a different Japanese-inspired focus. Ramen will now be served exclusively at sister restaurant Noraneko.

Up first: Life and business partners Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz will transform their 600-square-foot office down the hall from the original Biwa (inside the Pine Street Studios Building) into the candle-lit, Toyko-cute Biwa Izakaya, expected to open October 16. The space will house an eight-seat chef’s counter, a wrap-around wood banquette (with room for about 25), and paper screens. Menu categories include composed sashimi plates, local oysters, otsumami (Japanese snacks), and “hot dishes,” like oden, Japan’s ubiquitous winter stew. The game plans calls for what Rosen calls “a nerd’s dream list of beer, sake, whiskey, sochu,” and—of course, this being Portland—amari. Helming the kitchen: Carl Krause from Noraneko and David Padberg, a Japanese food freak and respected veteran chef returning to Portland after a stint in Santa Fe. 

Some things that caught our eye on the early menu: Hamachi sashimi with Asian pear and anise hyssop, “smoked shrimp that tastes almost like ham,” yukke (“our famous, lusty, Korean-style beef tartare”), hand-cut noodles with fancy butter and bottarga, pork and shrimp dumplings inspired by Chinatown’s famed Good Taste restaurant, and rotating onigiri.

The new izakaya will draw on the Biwa experience of the last 10 years. But Rosen and Voelz see this an opportunity to take some steps forward, in line with Portland’s changing food culture—drilling down on a food experience, more intimacy, and chefs serving directly to diners. “We will be doing an even more innovative and traditional sashimi and raw bar,” says Rosen. “We designed a fun and sophisticated new omakase experience…we even brought an oden pot over from Japan! It’s more carefully orchestrated. More wow and drama, more of a dance piece.” 

Diners will enter the building on SE 9th Avenue and head down a flight of stairs to a doorway marked only with a red lantern. (They want it to feel fairly mysterious, like the low-lit, boisterous spots they happened upon while living in Japan.) Voelz, whose architecture firm Constructive Form will design both spaces, calls it “a nod to Kytoto-esque dream world.” Dinner will be served six nights a week, Wednesday–Monday, 5–10 p.m.

Meanwhile, the original Biwa will be reborn as Bar Parasol, with a copper bar, modern lounge furniture, and a DJ station for turntable music. The plan is to open in early November as a casual Japanese café and noodle bar, with an emphasis on casual, affordable food and cocktails. Bar Parasol will be open nightly, 4 p.m.–2 a.m.

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