Miyake - Portland, ME

Miyake is a different class of sushi restaurant. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a sushi restaurant. Japanese fine dining fits the bill much better. From it's meager interior decorating, to the scant amount of seating, this place screams great food. You see, I have this theory, if a restaurant doesn't pump a lot of money into it's decor to try to draw you in with it's ambience, then it has to have excellent food. Otherwise, it would be easily overlooked. I actually did almost walk right by Miyake. It's in a tiny little house with a small sign on what seems to be a residential road. There was a voice inside me however, as soon as I walked through the doors, that said I would enjoy this meal.

Let me attempt to explain the flavors here. The above is a picture of simple miso soup. Miso soup is simply "dashi" (a broth of kelp and bonito flakes) with fermented soy bean paste. Miyake does a different kind of miso soup on fairly regular basis and tonight it was snapper broth miso soup!

I guess the reason I'd call this Japanese fine dining is because the emphasis is really on the food and its ingredients. This little amuse bouche was just slightly salty and briny with a nice crunch to it's texture. The piece of fish (which I don't recall the type of) was just fishy and rich enough that it get your salivary glands in action. Drooooool!

I had a difficult time deciding what to order when I took a look at the menu. At first I thought, maybe I'll go with the sashimi omakase. Omakase roughly translated means "your choice". I tend to gravitate towards omakase tasting menus because it opens the door to flavor opportunities that I may have not experienced. Be warned though, if you have food allergies, or just don't like certain types of food, you may be getting dishes that you can't stomach.

The above was my first course. 4 types of sashimi with real wasabi. Real wasabi is very difficult to come by. It's very expensive and therefore most sushi restaurants won't carry the stuff. If you're lucky enough to get a glob of it, don't waste it and eat every bit of it regardless of how much it hurts, because you never know when you'll get it again.

Now the etiquette with omakase meals is to leave it the way the chef intended. This is not the kind of meal you fill a little ramekin with soy sauce and dip away in. The chef has intended these dishes to be eaten the way they are presented to you. That being said, sashimi is a slightly different case. It is not an insult to lightly dip your sashimi in some soy sauce. However, I choose to go au natural. Nigiri on the other hand is a different story.

When am I ever going to get around talking about the food right? Alright, so the above was a FINE selection of raw goodies. All the fish at Miyake tastes like it just came off the fish and there is so much distinction between the cuts. I took great care in making sure I went UP in order of richness when I ate the above pieces of fish starting with the fish directly to the right of the lobster and making my way towards the right and then finishing with the lobster. I know that might sound a bit OCD of me but I wanted to get the most out of the fish and I knew the lobster would stand up against any of the rich fish.

Maine Lobster! That's really all I should say about it. It's just a different kind of food from the lobster we get sent down from ME that has had time to get depressed and thin and shocked into submission. The lobster up there is meaty and still full of flavor. This one was served with just a simple garlic oil and the fresh flavor of the ocean. Absolutely perfect! This lobster was so good I had to make it it's own post.

I really wish I could eat seafood this fresh all the time. These scallops are just barely seared in butter and served with super fresh spinach and fresh peas underneath them. These are such delicate flavors all meshing together to make an ultimate second course.

I forgot to mention that I ended up going with the 5 course omakase. They had a three and a 7 course as well but I didn't want to leave hungry or have to be rolled out of the place. I'm definitely going to make my way up to Miyake again and get the 7 course next time. It's just something I have to experience. That being said, these meals are not cheap. That's all relative of course. I've eaten some meals that are three times this price and half as good. Just the same I've eaten meals that are 3 dollars and just as good for different reasons.

This isn't the kind of restaurant you go to every day. I actually feel bad for people who do eat like this every day. For me, these kinds of meals are like rewards for hard work, or for catching up with old friends. To eat like this every day would just take everything special out of the moment.

Anyways, like I was saying, it's not cheap but in my honest opinion it's definitely worth the money. Remember how there is no ambience in this place? Well, they are obviously putting the money towards the amazing cuts of fresh fish and trimmings.

Back to the food. This fish was flaking apart as I ate it. The little bites of green were just slightly spicy in your mouth and the green onions give you a bite of freshness to the dish. I wish I had my notebook so I could have written down the kinds of fish that were part of this meal, but at the same time, the offerings here change so often it wouldn't have mattered anyways.

I'm guessing you could call this the "main course" since it is the heaviest of the dishes and most substantial. This is duck prepared two ways. To be honest with you I was kind of shocked to get duck in the meal. I mean, I was expecting some sort of vegetable course or an egg course like my meal at Kiss Seafood in San Francisco. (another amazing Japanese restaurant) Who am I to turn down some duck though. The fois gras mousse was amazing and the sweet fruit sauce complimented the duck so well.

This is nigiri. It's a handful of rice topped most of the time with fish or egg. It's definitely my preferred way of eating sushi. I realize that most people love the rolls that you get in your big sushi restaurants, but rolls tend to mute the flavor of the fish substantially. This way of giving you the sushi makes the fish the star. Each of these pieces was breathtaking. I didn't want to eat them all they were so delicious, hoping that they would somehow regenerate the bites that I had already taken. How weird is that? I guess it would have been even weirder if they had regenerated.

Anyways, that concludes my meal here at Miyake. My compliments to the chef for making absolutely amazing food out of a very unsuspecting restaurant. And one more thing, word to the wise, they don't serve alcohol here so if you like a little sake with your meal, it's BYOB.

--Joe Kwon