Kalé

When trying to explain the allure of this oddly huge, yet eminently humble downtown Japanese joint and its one deeply satisfying dish and its irrepressibly cheerful chef to those unfamiliar with the experience, I practically get choked up. I just so badly want them to understand the magic of this, well…of this lumpy dark brown stew.

To put it delicately, kalé–the “addictive” “ultimate comfort food” of Japan, according to chef Makoto Yoshino–is not going to win any crowns at the beauty pageant. But what it lacks in first impressions, it more than makes up for in personality–it is quite simply one of the most delicious one-pot wonders ever.

At first glance, you might fail to see the magic. After all, to put it delicately, kalé–the “addictive” “ultimate comfort food” of Japan, as enthusiastic kalé champion and chef/owner Makoto Yoshino bills it–is not going to win any crowns at the beauty pageant. In the most fundamental of its four forms, it’s a dark brown, gravy-like beef stew over plain white or brown rice, in the glammed-up Doria version, it’s that with cheese baked on top until hot and bubbly, cultivating delightfully crispy, chewy edges. But what this dish lacks in first visual impressions, it more than makes up for in personality–it is quite simply one of the most delicious one-trick wonders ever.

Yoshino, the bubbly man behind the stew, infuses every step of your kalé experience with his own unique brand of cheerleading. You’re instructed to select from the half dozen add-ons, or “sidekicks,” like bright red pickled onions, steamed spinach, and hard-boiled eggs, “based on your mood.” The website offers a detailed timeline pinpointing the inspiration for kalé as 1863 and following its ascent into everyday Japanese life up until 2010, when Yoshino opened in his former Goose Hollow location, and “Kalé is born in Portland, Oregon.” After developing packaging for his dish so that people could buy to-go tubs and recreate it at home, Yoshino also includes a detailed six-part instructional on how to cook and consume it, which concludes with “Enjoy your Kalé® Doria w/o burning your hands & mouth. Brag about your Kalé® Doria to your friends.”

For now, you’ll find this sapid Japanese import here in the center of downtown Stumptown, where its belly-warming properties are particularly well-suited to the long, dark, cold winters. But not surprisingly, Yoshino has big dreams for his beloved creation, which is probably why when when you look up its location, you’ll see the downtown address just above “Hoping London, UK; Hoping Prague, CZ.” Hello, world!

Details

Cuisine: Japanese

Executive Chef: Makoto Yoshino

Owner: Makoto Yoshino

Atmosphere: Big, open dining room in the center of downtown Portland, with so many tables that it rarely feels full, making a meal here incredibly relaxing (the infallibly warm service helps too)

Outdoor seating: No

Best Seat: One of the huge low slung booths

Noise Level: Quiet

Dress Code: Casual

Bring the Kids: Yes

Parking: Street parking is metered (Mon-Sat 8am-7pm, Sun 1-7pm) and can be challenging to find, but there is a SmartPark structure just around the corner at SW 10th and Yamhill

Cocktails: No

Beer: Sapporo, Pilsner Urquell & Oregon microbrews, $2.50

Wine: House red and white by the glass, $5

Sake: Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo & Nigori, $6

Teetotalers: Sodas

Coffee: Canned Japanese coffee

Tea: Steven Smith

Ideal Meal: Doria with spinach, pickled onions and hard boiled egg, Steven Smith Tea, one of each pack of Hi-Chews

Vegetarian Friendly: Yes

Good for the following occasions: Speedy Downtown Lunch, Casual Downtown Dinner, New Dining Experiences, Cheap Amazing Eats

Reservations: No

Take-Out: Yes

Delivery: Via Portland Pedal Power, call 503.227.5253 for more info