There's always a lot going on in the restaurant scene in Portland, but this spring a few news items combined with some developments since the fall all add up to a significant upgrade in our Asian food infrastructure. When people from away think about Maine, Asian food is not what first comes to mind, yet Portland has a considerable South East Asian population and a sizable Korean community as well. A recent troll of the Portland Foodmap news feed yielded some tasty nuggets (which led me to some others, and so on):
Food Factory Miyake, the mothership of its more visible noodle bar (Pai Men Miyake), will move into the highly visible and quite modern space adjacent to Paciarino on Fore Street. Chef Masa Miyake moved his family here from New York (where he worked for Daniel Boulud) in 2007 and started out quietly in a small, unassuming corner storefront on Spring Street and has built a truly dedicated following with his improvisatory and original approach to sushi. The new location will make Miyake knowable to every visitor who strolls through the Old Port. Let's hope that Masa continues to surprise and delight in the new space now that he is no longer a delicious inside secret. (Pulling a full David Chang in Portland won't work because not enough people have personal assistants to robo-call for reservations!) Interestingly, Miyake and Paciarino shared adjacent paragraphs in a writeup on the Portland restaurant scene in the New York Times a while back.
...And Mama Miyake Cooks at Home
In the excellant Immigrant Kitchens site, Lindsey Sterling learns how to make “A Traditional Japanese Family Meal” from Masa's wife, Chieko Miyake. When Lindsey "asked if [Chieko] would teach [her] how to cook her favorite dish. She was more surprised than others have been at the question (if that’s possible) because usually it’s her husband that everybody wants to cook with. He’s a famous chef. She joked, 'But the kids like my food better.'"
Last fall, a new Korean restaurant opened on Exchange Street called Little Seoul which sounds promising based on the review in appetite portland. Also in the fall, Happy Teriyaki transformed from a Japanese menu with some Korean dishes to the only completely Korean menu in Maine—changing its name in the process to Korea House—with mostly favorable reviews. Soon, just down Congress street will be a new Korean inspired concept. Ian Farnsworth, the owner and proprietor of Slainte Wine Bar and Lounge told the Portland Press Herald that he is opening a new restaurant right by Longfellow Square (formerly a Somali restaurant called Bavara). The restaurant, called Gogi, will serve "a type of gourmet fast food, a blend of Korean and Mexican. Marinated meats – which is where the name, Gogi, comes from – plus fresh vegetables, served on small tortillas. We’ll also do tofu and vegetarian. It’s very popular out West. We’ll also have seafood. Generally, quick, tasty food that everyone can enjoy." The trend he is referring to is the Korean BBQ taco trucks of Los Angeles, and if they do it right the place will be wildly popular.
And More Thai Tastes
Yordprom Coffee Company, out on the west end of Congress st. near the Quimby Colony and Peloton Labs, has been open a year and is hitting its stride. Run by a very sweet Thai man named Tom Yordprom (in case you were wondering where the name comes from), the café is spacious, low key and has an air of careful quality. I had stopped by for coffee a few times and thought that I would love to see them serve some sort of Thai bar food with the coffee (as good as it is) as a way of distinguishing themselves from all the other excellent cafés in Portland. And sure enough, Tom recently began serving a small, inexpensive lunch menu that, according to a review last week in the Press Herald is just perfect for a light lunch. And speaking of Thai, Boda Thai on Longfellow Square, from the people who brought you the Green Elephant temple of vegan cuisine, is now as highly rated on the Portland Food Map as Veranda Thai, a personal favorite of mine.
A Cambodian Rumor?
There is a new looking sign for a "Mittapheap" Cambodian restaurant on Cumberland. Portland has quite a large Cambodian population and three, count 'em, three Cambodian food markets, but as yet no actual Cambodian restaurants (you have to go to Lowell, Mass., for that experience). "Mittapheap" is the name of the market on Washington Ave. It's co-owner, Makara Meng, also shared a recipe with Immigrant Kitchens, so maybe there are some clues there.
But Why isn't the Chinese Food Better?
Two recent articles, a (quite loving) survey of Chinese buffets written by Seth Eli Goldstein in The Bollard and a comparative review of eight Chinese restaurants in the Greater Portland area on the From Away blog, ask, but don't quite answer the eternal question of why the Chinese food in Portland isn't better. It's not for want of an audience or access to quality ingredients. As Malcolm on From Away writes, "Here’s what it’s taken me eight restaurants and a little over 5,500 words to figure out: The overall Chinese food situation in Portland is not good. After testing all the restaurants that lead in popular opinion, we couldn’t find one to recommend across-the-board. Some restaurants did one or two things well, while severely botching others, and some restaurants couldn’t seem to get anything right." Sounds like there's an opportunity out there for someone to do a first-rate, authentic Chinese restaurant in Portland to keep up with the rest of the continent. Any takers?