My wonderful oldest sister, Tika, invited me on a Portland Foodie Walking Tour today. After the long walk and samples of some of the great variety of edible treats available, I gained a rather large hunger that could only be sated by ramen.
About two weeks ago, I read Emily Burnham’s review of Pai Men Miyake and it just so happened that I ended up there for a late lunch, accompanied by my boyfriend Paul. It was about fifty degrees Fahrenheit in downtown Portland — but the warm, moist air of the noodle shop immediately fogged up my glasses. As they cleared, I saw a very inviting ramen-ya with a generous bar, comfortable seating for couples and groups, and some of the coolest wall materials I’ve seen.
The waitstaff was quiet, yet attentive, and soon Paul and I had settled on the following:
- Appetizer: Pork Gyoza and Pork Buns
- Main: Paitan Ramen
The pork buns ($9 for two) were served first. The unctuous pieces of braised pork belly floated on delicate steamed buns with a slightly hot pepper relish on top. I’ve not had pork belly so rich in flavor and so amazingly tender. The whole plate was consumed in less than a minute and I could have had four more, but I knew I needed to keep room for the coming bowl of ramen.
I enjoy gyoza, making them and consuming them, and they’re a good measure of the sensibility of the chef. This set was perfectly constructed and cooked — the sear on the bottom was uniform and crispy and the tops were pleated professionally. The taste, though, was understated. I like my gyoza to have a bit of a gingery punch, these gyoza were mild enough to require the use of a dipping sauce. Perhaps the chef intended these to be a counterpoint to the over-the-top richness of the pork buns and, if that is true, they provided that counterpoint appropriately.
Or perhaps the gyoza were the counterpoint to the ramen. Oh! The ramen! The paitan ramen ($9.50) arrived in wide mouthed bowls allowing the scent of pork and chicken to waft out in waves of wondrous goodness. The broth was thick with well emulsified fat and surrounded a generous helping of noodles, topped with a chilled, soy-marinated hard boiled egg, pork belly, spring onions, and nori.
As I rearranged the components of the ramen with my chopsticks, it was easy to appreciate the thought that went into composing this dish. The broth, as noted above, was even and the perfect temperature for immediate consumption. The yolk of the egg stood out, a bright orange yellow, in the surrounding drab white. And the pork belly seemed to slowly melt while I watched. Lastly, the noodles — kinky and yellow and in reasonable lengths — were exactly as they should be: firm to the caress of the chopsticks and al dente in the mouth.
A great slurping commenced as the noodles became fodder for my eager mouth. Yes, these are what good noodles should be. Somehow, they transport the broth’s essence along with them, like… like… well, like something awesome. Maybe it’s a kind of capillary action or velvet highway. Anyway, the noodles were great! The egg, chilled and waiting, provided a little break from the slurping and the pork belly continued to exude a serene porkiness into the bowl.
Paul struggled with the noodles for a bit, but once he switched to using the provided soup spoon, he had much better luck. I finished my bowl quickly, adding chili garlic paste ($1.50) half way through to mix things up. I didn’t get as much heat from the paste as I expected, but I received a generous portion on the side and could likely have reached a fiery pinnacle if I mixed it all in at once.
Will I return to Pai Men Mikayke? Yes, certainly. There are more variations of ramen and soba to try and a variety of appetizers that definitely require sampling. It’s great to know that delicious ramen is just around the corner in Portland.