One of the most ambitious Portland restaurants on tap for 2020 is inspired by … a Japanese outdoor lifestyle brand? That would be Snow Peak: The minimalist designer camping-gear company has a deep affinity for Portland, dating back 20 years to its DIY garage distribution roots and eventually to its American headquarters in the Pearl District.
Now, Portland Monthly has learned, the company is readying to plant a full-service restaurant called Takibi in the back of its latest expansion: a swanky, forest-inspired flagship store designed by the inventive Skylab Architecture, slated to open at 404 NW 23rd Ave. in late spring. The 75-seat restaurant and bar will also have a covered outdoor patio with seating around firepits. For Takibi, the company formed a partnership with Submarine Hospitality, the high profile, on-the-move restaurant group from Portland chef Joshua McFadden and Luke Dirks (Ava Gene’s, Tusk, the Hoxton). Also in the partnership mix: modern cocktail pioneer and bar author Jim Meehan, in his first local project since moving to Portland from New York six years ago.
What unites them? A shared aesthetic for things local, spirited, engaging, and made with high quality. The name Takibi, says Meehan, “translates to something like bonfire, a place to gather for warmth and light, food and drink, connection and community. It’s the inspiration behind the kind of experience we’d like to offer here.” The menu is still in the works, but we can expect lots of Northwest influences—foraged things, seafood and mushrooms among them, with binchotan charcoal cooking in the mix and Snow Peak’s famed camping dinnerware, Bunsen burners, and cast-iron skillets finding their way to the table.
“What Italian cooking is to Ava Gene’s and Tusk is to the flavors of Middle Eastern cooking, Takibi will be to Japanese food,” says McFadden. “A simple beautiful approach to seasonal cooking, but with inspiration from the larder of Japan.”
Korean-American chef and Portland newcomer Alex Kim will helm the kitchen, collaborating with McFadden. Kim has cooked Japanese food in Japanese and American restaurants for ten years, though McFadden seemed most impressed that he once worked on a seaweed farm.
Meehan will bring his great interest in Japan to the bar. He’s still tinkering with his approach, but this much is clear: beverages from Pacific Northwest are a big part of the program. “Takibi,” he says, “will source local wines, spirits, beer, beverage and sake with the same national and regional pride you'd find in a bar or restaurant in Japan.” Meehan has been to Japan seven times, he reckons, each time returning with new tools, glassware, spices, and spirits.
But don’t expect fanciful creations. Meehan—who founded the hipster-cool James Beard–winning New York cocktail bar PDT in 2007—is taking a near spiritual approach to Takibi.
“I have deep reverence for Japan’s culture and rituals,” he tells me. “But at no point do I—a middle-aged white guy from the Midwest—come back thinking, 'I should really start figuring out how to cut elaborate citrus sculptures to garnish my drinks.' My favorite cocktails bar in Japan focus on classic cocktails, often with innovative twists, and we will, too. But inspiration must come from within, otherwise you risk appropriating something you do not fully understand and cannot faithfully recreate.”
Given sparse details on his upcoming bar menu, I asked Meehan: If you could tell Portland anything about your first Portland bar, what would it be?
“Like any Midwesterner,” he confesses, “I’d probably start with ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m sorry that it’s taken me six years to open a bar here. That wasn’t the plan, but I’m grateful it’s finally here and I’m eager to serve you.” Stay tuned.