Walking down Spring Street en route to Miyake Diner, I have a New York moment. The tiny, three-week old spot looks dead, locked tight as a drum.
It’s 6 p.m. on a bitter Wednesday and a Nor’Easter is barreling up the coast. Perhaps they called it quits?
Through the foggy windows, people dressed in black mill around the kitchen. Candles flicker. Inside the nocturnal nook is all wood, Edison lights and ambiance. With 11 seats at the bar and just one common table, a slew of supermodels would be pinched, crammed into this space.
So what’s larger-than-life food personality Joe Ricchio doing in here?
Selling sake and lots of it.
The host of “Off The Wagon” and Maine Magazine food editor commands the bar. With a warm greeting and out-stretched hand he welcomes all. He pours sake all night, cracks wise, and cranks the ’80s and ’90s hits. “Cinderella goes very well with Japanese cuisine,” muses Ricchio to a trio digging the scene.
The cuisine of Masa Miyake needs no introduction. This, his third Portland outpost, as Ricchio puts it “is a sake bar that serves good food.”
With five sakes offered by the glass or carafe, and nine by the bottle, it feels like a sake speakeasy transplanted from Tokyo or Tribeca. The only clue that you’ve arrived in the right place is the word DINER above the door.
While serving plates of pickled smelts, the exuberant bar manager talks about the “aromatics” of sakes with the ease of a sommelier. The Dassai 39 ($42 a bottle) “has a long finish that lingers.”
Because “bad sake is really bad,” and “most people haven’t had the good stuff,” Ricchio is just the man to elevate fermented rice in a glass to wine-snob status.
And speaking of glasses, chilled sake, such as the vibrant and orangey Kaori Junamai Ginjo ($6 a pop) is served in goblets, giving this spirit, historically downed hot in cups, an elegant edge. The earthy and tangy Kaori is a nice break from savignon blanc.
With 15 sakes on the menu and 50 in his sights, Ricchio is ready to sake it to Portland. Miyake Diner, 129 Spring St., Portland, is open 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Everyday but Sunday.