Best Restaurants 2017: Three Degrees of Naoko

3 Ways a Japanese Chef Created an Only-in-Portland Gem

Here’s how Naoko Tamura’s downtown spot went from dorky to destination.

By Karen Brooks October 12, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

Pomo 0417 naoko japanese udon iehruc

A quartet of Chef Naoko standouts (clockwise from top left): beef tataki; hazelnut tofu; bento box with crisp-tender pork tonkatsu; udon soup stocked with farm vegetables.

1. Last fall, Chef Naoko’s food-dork-favorite bento café morphed into Shizuku, a culinary sanctuary designed by Kengo Kuma. The architect—Portland’s Japanese Garden expansion, Tokyo 2020’s Olympic Stadium—liked her vision, in tune with the natural world. 

2. Naoko Tamura speaks like Yoda. Vegetables, she insists, call out to her from farm stands or fields: “Please buy me.” The Toyko native swears she knows the health and happiness of an animal by touch. Why are her pork shumai dumplings cloaked in Bob’s Red Mill oats, of all things? There’s no suitable noodle wrapper pre-made in Oregon. Meanwhile, almost no one seems to use her restaurant’s new name.

3. Portland’s most unusual table is here for the asking: a low-riding “floating platform” tea table in the corner, bordered by a contemplative stone garden designed by Japanese Garden curator Sadafumi Uchiyama. Slip off your shoes, and sit on floor pads. Order a bento, hop around the menu, or reserve the $65 ocean kaiseki feast and contemplate: how did we get so lucky?

(For more, check out our April 2017 review of Shizuku.)

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