Kayoko Kaye, a native of Osaka, is best-known as the driven cook behind Kayo’s Ramen Bar

Sourdough starter madness? That was so pandemic yesterday. At least one cook, Kayoko Kaye, has moved on to other pursuits, the next wave in bread-baking: shokupan. A staple in Japan where it's commonly toasted or clad around eye-catching egg salad sandwiches in Tokyo's 7-11s, Japanese milk bread (as it's also called) is prized for its wondrous cotton-soft, sink-your-teeth-in tenderness. American Wonder Bread can only dream.

Kaye, a native of Osaka, is best-known as the cook behind Kayo’s Ramen Bar, where she brews elegant, nuanced, assari-style ramen broths to bathe springy coils of housemade noodles. In early March, Kayoko and her husband Matt, Kayo's front-of-the-house, purchased the assets and lease on the vacated Ristretto Roasters next door at 3808 N Williams. The couple planned to open a Japanese kissaten, serving classics like curry rice, ketchup spaghetti, egg sandwiches, and iced coffee. The idea was great, as Japan's old-school coffee-shop culture is not well-known here. But the timing, as Matt puts it, “could not have been worse.” A few weeks later, restaurants changed forever, and across the city, dreams folded.

But a popular kissaten dish—pizza toast—got the Kayes thinking: why not serve it on a bread-focused menu? With this, the idea for Kimura Toast Bar was hatched, and Kayoko went on a scholarly shokupan-baking binge. It took 57 tries to nail the perfect loaf, which in her mind means “dense, smooth, stretchy, soft, and above all, tasty.” Given their small kitchen, the Kayes recruited neighborhood bakery Dos Hermanos to produce the loaves for the new project.

Kimura Toast Bar hopes to open in late July or early August. The plan is take-out to begin, with distanced-table patio seating out front.

A sneak peek at the work-in-progress menu reveals about two dozen toasts, some traditional, some playful, all built around fresh shokupan. Among the options: toast with a choice of six butters (yuzu to rum-raisin) and, of course, pizza toast—typically, a thick-cut slab of white bread, some tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings that might involve corn, salami or hot dogs. I'm also heading straight for the “beef hot dog” toasts, which will be served with ketchup and mustard or beef curry sauce.

Among Kayoko's “signature toasts” is beef keema curry ladled over cheese toast. But she's also delving into Portland brunch territory. Toppings in the works: carrot cake (homemade carrot jam and cream cheese frosting), Boston crème banana (sporting fresh chocolate cream, fresh bananas and chocolate dukkha), and caramelized apple crème brulee (crowned in fresh custard cream). It's dessert for breakfast, and I, for one, am all in.

Watch for a website in soon, and stay tuned for more details as they come. Kayo's Ramen Bar is currently open for take-out and delivery.

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