The day before Thanksgiving I had two very contradictory lunchtime cravings. One was for a muffaletta at Micucci, a sandwich that ranks among the devil’s most delicious, cheesy, meaty work. Based on the turkey feast I knew I’d be partaking in the next day, I decided to act on the second craving, namely some kind of Japanese soup, either miso or ramen. Something warming but also somewhat more virtuous.
Driving down Commercial Street in Portland, I spotted an open parking spot right across from Sapporo Restaurant and pulled into it. (Virtue might be its own reward, but perhaps not the only reward.) The restaurant had just opened, and I was one of just a couple of customers inside. I considered the ramen (pork, bamboo shoots, spinach and fishcake for $9.50) but not loving pork in soup, I decided to try chicken and soba noodle soup instead ($9.18 with tax). I asked for it to go and was offered a seat while I waited, as well as a glass of water.
The soup showed up so fast I only had time to gawk at a half dozen Instagram photos of the crazy beautiful snowstorm that had just blanketed the state. It was a big portion, packed in one of those tall plastic tubs. Much as I’d prefer to eat out of a china bowl, when you’re ordering to go you can hardly argue against them. Plus, I horde these for packing up leftovers at home and get many uses out of them.
Back at the office, I used the chopsticks my server at Sapporo had kindly packed for me (along with a fork and a spoon) to pull up the buckwheat noodles and big chunks of white chicken meat. The noodles were squishier than I like, and I wished I’d ordered the firmer ramen instead, but the broth was exactly what I was after: flavorful but also clean tasting. The opposite of muffaletta really.
Sapporo offers all the usual suspects of a Japanese restaurant, from sushi to bento boxes, all served inside a dark and cozy interior that feels far more 1998 than 2018. I think that’s part of why I like the place so much. It’s unpretentious, reliable and welcoming. Like a good bowl (or tub) of soup.
WHERE: 230 Commercial St., Union Wharf, Portland
INFO: (207) 772-1233 or sappororestaurant.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Open for dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and on Sunday. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday
WAIT: About 5 minutes for a to go order
PARKING: The restaurant does have six spots in a lot behind it, available at lunch time. If you go to its website, they have helpful photo illustrations of precisely where. Otherwise, it’s Commercial Street, so bring patience and a credit card for the meters. At night, more spots open up in the back lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes