As my lovely mother so astutely noted, Matt and I had consumed quite a bit of food before skipping off into the Portland night. But after an evening filled with art and artists and beer and the introduction of one old friend (me) to a whole batch of new friends, who could blame us for being just a touch peckish at the end of it all?
We hopped a bus back across the water and, pied-piper–like, convinced the whole crew to follow us. The siren song of discounted noodles is a hard one to resist.
Turns out that happy hour in Portland isn’t limited to pre-dinner, post-work: The already affordable Japanese(ish) restaurant Biwa offers special prices until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., as long as you sit at the bar. And they’re willing to stretch the definition of “bar,” at that.
We commandeered this small corner, and, as the crowd straggled in, the waitstaff obligingly allowed us to pull over as many additional chairs as we needed. As the first ones there, impatient and unwilling to miss out on the deal, Matt, his boyfriend, and I ordered our late-night treats while everyone else worked out the seating arrangements.
First, a few snacks.
My pick, the shrimp and scallion pancake, was fantastic, a contrast in flavors and textures. I thought those papery bits on top were pieces of pancake, thinly sliced and deep-fried, until one of Matt’s roommates filled me in the next day; the knowledge that they were shrimp shells (it was dark in there, cut me some slack) didn’t affect my enjoyment of the dish, even in hindsight.
Matt chose two items from the yakimono section of the menu; the first, grilled garlic. Each clove’s sweet, fire-kissed exterior gave way to an only slightly mellowed center and paired perfectly with the second plate.
Yes, that’s a slab of bacon, on a skewer. We can call it “pork belly” if you’d prefer the upscale nomenclature, but either way, this was some tasty pig. I restricted myself to a single bite, already feeling the effects of that scallion pancake and knowing what I still had ahead of me.
My standards for ramen are almost unfairly high, so rather than risk disappointment, I’d decided to give the udon a try instead; I had to pat myself on the back when the steaming bowl was placed in front of me.
A carb-lover’s dream, these thick, hand-cut noodles were wonderfully chewy; my helping was made even heartier with the addition of an egg, yolk only semi-firm, and the ubiquitous pork belly, braised and finished—a little over-enthusiastically—on the grill. For my money, the better belly was represented in the bowl, not on the skewer: The coil in the soup had serious heft, each seemingly solid bite yielding a layer of melt-in-your mouth fatty goodness that, when paired with the outer char, couldn’t be beat. My only complaint was with the ball of grated daikon perched on top of the noodles; flavorwise, it lent a sharp edge to the dish, but I couldn’t get past the granulated texture. Think lots-of-pulp orange juice, and you’ll get the idea.
In the end, though, the folks at Biwa did me a favor—they must have known that there was no way I could’ve—or should’ve—finished the entire bowl. This, Mom, is what we call A Lot Of Food.
215 SE 9th Avenue