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Authentic Russian, Japanese-Hawaiian artisan fare on menus



When it comes to food innovations, we love that Portland is seriously, unapologetically authentic (basically weird).

Whether visiting a restaurant run by a first-time food entrepreneur or the most seasoned chef, Portlanders embrace truly authentic fare.

The concept can be something as simple as Japanese rice balls — also known as onigiri, or musubi, as they call the beloved everyday lunch staple in Hawaii.

Or, it can be as grand and historic as a new dining room at the Heathman Hotel by celebrity chef Vitaly Paley, showcasing his passions for Northwest cuisine, fresh seafood and Russian tea.

This month, both spots will open to curious diners who may have never tasted an artisan spam musubi or a kippered fish.

Here’s the scoop on both spots:

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - New Japanese-Hawaiian rice ball shop Musubi uses high-grade rice and scratch-made fillings with local ingredients, including artisanal spam. • Musubi, the city’s first Japanese-Hawaiian rice ball shop, launched with timing, riding the tsunami of interest in Hawaiian and Japanese-influenced eateries of late (think poke and ramen in addition to the ubiquitous rise of sushi culture).

With a quiet launch earlier this month at Southeast Division Street, right next to Bar Avignon, Hawaii-born Darren Yuen teamed up with Portland chef J.J. Needham, who earned his chops at Broder Clinton and the now-closed Savoy Tavern.

Sure, most Portland people have never heard of musubi, Yuen admits, but he doesn’t think it’ll take long. Customers can pop in and order their fresh musubi fresh and eat it on the spot at one of the few window seats, or take it to go.

Or — for those who can’t break away from work, think of musubi as a sandwich alternative, and order through their “Da Hui” service, which delivers fresh musubi to downtown and inner east side workplaces.

Yuen quit his day job as a fundraiser in May to launch the concept, based on his mother’s recipes, childhood memories and desire to make fresh, healthy food more accessible to kids and adults.

In fact, 10 cents of every musubi sold gets donated to a local nonprofit. Yuen has chosen the Portland Fruit Project, which sends extra-ripe fruit from neighbors to feed the needy.

Yuen and Needham make nearly everything from scratch — from the miso and teriyaki sauce to the artisan spam (tastes hammier than the infamous canned version), yuzu konbu and furikake seasoning.

They import their high-grade rice, nori and ume (pickled plum) from Japan, since there’s no higher quality found locally.

Musubi are $3 apiece, each a tiny perfect meal in itself.

The wild Northwest salt-cured salmon is perfectly flaky and grilled; the chicken curry packs a little heat with its Thai curry marinade; the spicy tuna mayo bursts with the freshness of line-caught albacore tuna, Kewpie mayo and a seven-spice mix. It’s musubi like you’ve never tasted before.

Side salads like Hawaiian-style macaroni salad and a wakame dulse salad (seaweed from Japan and Maine) round out the menu.

While you’re there, don’t forget to admire the incredibly detailed 60-foot mural by Portland artist Eugene Good, which depicts the genesis of musubi in Japan, Hawaii and Oregon — complete with a hungry Sasquatch and Godzilla.

Check it out: 2134 S.E. Division St., www.grindmusubi.com

COURTESY: CARLY DIAZ - Noted chef Vitaly Paley will expand his empire with the opening of Headwaters at the Heathman Hotel. • Also this month, Paley will expand his empire even further with the opening of Headwaters, the new dining room at the Heathman Hotel on Friday, Oct. 14.

Paley — of Paley’s Place, Imperial, Portland Penny Diner, Russian pop-up restaurant DaNet — will be the third James Beard Award winner to take the helm of the iconic Heathman, 1001 S.W. Broadway Ave.

Work is wrapping now for the opening of the grand space, which will focus on three seemingly incongruent concepts: a hearth, a raw bar for oysters and other live shellfish, and a Russian tea bar with traditional service.

True to his style, he and executive chef Ken Norris (of now-closed Clutch Sausagery and Riffle NW) will be cooking Pacific Northwest cuisine with French techniques in a modern manner, rooted in the hotel’s sense of place.

Diners can expect to see sexy trays of baked oysters and other shellfish prepared in the hearth, and a daily selection of whole-roasted, sustainably sourced fish sold by the pound, served with simple accompaniments.

There will also be spit-roasted meat, including duck, chicken and game.

The other top attraction here, especially during the holidays, will be the rich wood-paneled Russian Tea Court, drawing from his own heritage and Paley’s experience with DaNet.

Guests can enjoy a traditional Russian service or teas from Smith Teamaker, wines, champagne and vodka alongside sweet and savory dishes like layered cakes and smoked and kippered fish.

Check it out (opening Friday, Oct. 14): 614 S.W. 11th Ave., www.headwaterspdx.com.

@jenmomanderson

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