Wednesday, September 2, 2015


A funky. spontaeous summer fling for the Biwa team: Kotori is an open-air yakitori shack located just down the street from its mother, probably the best Japanese restaurant in Portland.  Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz oversee the
charcoal grills that perfume the air with a smoky allure- it's practically impossible to keep your salivary glands from going into overdrive as soon as your approach the pebbled triangle on the corner of SE 9th and Pine.  Colorful paper lanterns are suspended from a matrix of bamboo over wooden planks that serve as a make-shift standing bar.  Doesn't provide much shade, but the leafy trees surrounding will fulfill that duty throughout the rest of the summer.  Come fall, the mild Oregon sun won't need any buffering, and we're not even sure how long Kotori's coal will continue to burn: it's a fairly exposed situation, and that bamboo won't be of much use when Portland's signature autumn drizzle kicks in.

But in the meantime, Kotori is a celebration of summer, and more importantly, of chicken.  Yakitori is basically variations of chicken... EVERY part of the chicken... on skewers.  Little paper menus are provided, and you mark off the quantity of whichever delicacies you choose.   The first thing you should check off is the #lovewins, a frisky, refreshing cocktail made with cucumber and aperol.  Cocktails don't always work with food, but this drink and these vittles are a #lovewinning combination.  Oolong-hi is less sweet, a manlier tipple but just as balanced and drinkable.  They have quite a composed drink menu for such a focused little joint: perfectly suited wines and ciders, a few beers and a pair of sakes are all excellent options.  And while
 Kotori is totally chicken-centric, man cannot live on chicken alone, so there are a smattering of  vegetables and condiments on hand.   A Japanese-style elote is not to be missed: the Kewpie might have been squiggled on a little thick, but rolling it around on the plate to smear up with the thick coat of zesty spices eliminates some of it, and if ever there was justification for such an indulgence, this cob is it.   We got some
 shishito peppers and shiitake mushrooms as well, which were virtually unseasoned if at all (not
even salt, far as I could tell), so their purpose is serve as backdrops to the main show (and placate vegephiles such as myself).  Or you can veer Asian with a little crock of kimchi, or 360 back American-style with homemade potato salad.

In terms of poultry, the thigh with green onion was my favorite.  The nuggets of meat were so juicy,  intrinsically chickeny and interlaced with the allium.  Simple, perfect, elemental flavors. Tsukune is a soft, highly seasoned Japanese sausage, redolent of ginger and soy with a subtle sweetness.  While there are also a couple of non-chicken items available, just order the Teba, and get a full-fledged hotdog-tasting experience without deviating focus.  I had actually kind of forgotten what a hotdog tasted like, but this wing'll conjure up the best memories you never
 had of Oscar Mayer.  Less thrilling to me was kebab of hearts.  They shared the spongey texture of the shiitakes, actually, which is great in a mushroom but something to get used to in meat.  They had that signature cardiac, metallic  flavor: you either like it or you don't.  

There are no desserts to offer at Kotori, so either slug back another #lovewins, or better yet, head up the block to Pinolo for some uber-authentic Italian gelato, featuring both classics and the best Pacific Northwest flavors.   True: Salt & Straw is just up the street as well, but so is their line.  And after such a pure and uncomplicated repast at Kotori, garam masala and cinnamon cauliflower ice cream might seem a little convoluted.  Definitely nail the Organic Blackberry sorbet, that pairs famously with a scoop of lemon (two flavors to a Small, three for a medium and so on).  Amarena features big, lusty cherries, seductively dark and chewy.  Pistachio is the
 frozen-cold creamy state of the nut itself, somehow tasting more pistachioey than pistachios themselves.  Peach gelato?  In Oregon, with sink peaches at their drippiest?  Ethereal.  People know what is good: there's still a swarm at Pinolo, but nothing compared to the two blocks long snake outside Salt & Straw.  Here, you'll have just enough of a wait to decide amongst all the glorious flavors.  A perfect summer evening?  Kotori and Pinolo.  Somehow, in Portland, Japanese and Italy go hand in hand.

 Corner of SE 9th Street and Pine Street
No phone.

3703 SE Division St.
tel. 503-758-1575

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