On a balmy, late summer evening, I wouldn’t think of the ramen bar, Pai Men Miyake, as the place to be. When I imagine the bowls of piping hot broth, thick noodles and crispy pork belly, I usually also picture snow dusting the ground outside, or at the very least, a layer of frost. But as I arrived at the small ramen bar, people were spilling outside, waiting for a table. While most patrons chose to dine and drink outdoors, I popped inside, my friend and fellow cocktail lover by my side, and we only had to wait five minutes for a high-top bar seat.
Admittedly, the narrow bar was a little crowded, especially as people made their way beside us to the bathrooms. More than once, my friend leaned back in his chair only to elbow the young woman behind us. But overall, it wasn’t uncomfortable, especially once we settled in.
The small venue was bustling; loud conversation and laughter surrounded us, and it appeared everyone in the bar was on a date. I could see why — it has the perfect casual, but classy ambiance that makes a good date spot. Music thrummed over the chatter, and for such a small space, it was very loud (or perhaps I’m just getting old). Above us, spirals of metal curved around the lighting in a modern art installation that juxtaposed the brick wall beside us and wood shingles decorating the opposite wall.
After perusing the cocktail list for a few minutes, I was intrigued by the use of sake within classics, like the Miyake Mule ($9.50), and curious whether it would infuse well into these drinks. Smiling, our server praised their take on a Moscow Mule, which features Bulleit Rye (a favorite of mine), Japanese Yuzu Omoi Sake, lemon, lime and Maine Root Ginger Brew. While I could taste the alcohol in Pai Men Miyake’s spin on a Moscow Mule, most of the rye and sake flavors were drowned out by the heavy sour notes of the lemon and lime and the ginger beer. I could hardly taste the sake at all, and even though I could tell it was different than most Moscow Mules I’ve had in the past, it wasn’t for the reasons that it should have grabbed me. Initially, I liked the spicy notes of the ginger beer, however, that’s a staple in just about any mule you order. If I closed my eyes, I could almost taste the Bulleit Rye, but as I kept sipping, the overwhelming lemon and lime took away from the blend of the other flavors. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
The Shiso Lucky ($9.50), with Backriver Gin, muddled Shiso, lime juice and simple syrup, was also surprisingly sour. Not nearly as much as the mule, but once again, the lime flavor overshadowed all other flavors within the drink. And the same problem with the Smoke and Roses ($9.50), made with El Jimador Tequila, Wild Shot Reposado Mezcal, St. Germain, house-made sour mix and rose water. Too dang sour. It’s rare in a drink featuring mezcal to drown out that smokiness, but the sour mix was too overwhelming.
A little nervous, my friend and I nudged our drinks to the side and ordered a couple of bites— the Brussels sprouts ($9) and the pork buns ($10), a menu item that I’ve been told over and over by friends with crazed looks in their eyes that I must order.
Holy flavor-exploding goodness! I looked around closer at the bar, and it was evident why Pai Men Miyake was stuffed to the brim with patrons. It’s likely not the cocktails. The cocktails are what keep you busy while you wait for this mind-numbingly delicious food to be delivered to you.
The Brussels sprouts were quite easily the most delicious I’ve had in all of Portland. Or maybe anywhere I’ve visited. They’re described as being dressed with a fish sauce vinaigrette, cilantro and mint. But that description? It doesn’t do them justice. It ignores the way they’re fried, piping hot, to a crispy perfection and drizzled with just enough of that vinaigrette to deliver a bold flavor punch to your taste buds without drowning them or making them soggy. The mix of mint and cilantro coats every bite with just the perfect amount of herb flavoring. Next: the pork buns. The house-made steamed buns were plump and tender, the pork belly glistened with a beautiful sheen of fat, and the buns were garnished with gochujang mayo and pepper relish. They say that you take the first bite of any food with your eyes, and I was devouring this plate with a simple look. The actual bite did not disappoint either. The steamed buns were delicate and fluffy rather than dense. The pork belly was tender and cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The outside was crisp, while the inside was silky and velvety. The gochujang mayo added a spicy heat to each bite, and the pepper relish had a pickled sweetness to balance it.
Satisfied, we decided to give one more cocktail a try: the Shiso-Ito ($8). Cruzan white rum, Shiso simple syrup, lime and soda water. I was nervous when I took a sip — but finally, we had found a refreshing beverage that wasn’t slam-your-face-into-a-bowl-of-lime-juice sour. It was crisp, delicious, sweet without tasting like candy and the perfect summer cocktail (which lasts until Sept. 22, by the way). Though, in the future, I might choose to stick to some of their Japanese beers on draft, such as Hitachino Nest Yuzu Lager, one of my favorite Japanese beers. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a carafe of ice cold sake in the summer or a hot sake in the winter.
WHERE: 188 State St., Portland
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday
AMENITIES: Outdoor patio, indoor seating, full menu (served at the bar), lunch, dinner and drinks
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: The food is what truly shines at Pai Men Miyake. If you’re a fan of sour flavors or drinks with heavy lime/lemon flavorings, then this is the cocktail list for you. Otherwise, sticking to their beers (a large, exciting selection of both local and Japanese brews), wine or sake is likely the way to go. A loud, casual and hip atmosphere make this a fun place to grab some food and a drink with friends or a date.