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See Inside Shizuku by Chef Naoko; 10 Things to Know

The refined downtown bento restaurant is on the move

“I didn’t have a choice,” says Naoko Tamura, chef and owner of Shizuku by Chef Naoko and the Chef Naoko catering company, referring to her decision to make the move from Japan to open a bento cafe in downtown Portland. Tamura’s fate was sealed by two factors: She grew up working in her mother’s restaurant, so she started cooking before she can even remember, and after one wild season at Oregon summer camp, her daughter practically demanded they relocate to the United States.

Tamura opened Chef Naoko in 2007, and now the seasonal, organic bento restaurant has completed a major revamp involving one of the world’s most renowned architects, Kengo Kuma (he’s currently renovating the Portland Japanese Garden). See the transformation in the photos above. Here are 10 things to know about the revamped Chef Naoko restaurant, now known as Shizuku by Chef Naoko:

  1. “My mission is to build Japanese food culture,” says Tamura. “Portland is very special. The people have really good palates for subtle tastes. I am here to pass on Japanese history to the next generations.”
  2. Shizuku by Chef Naoko is a kappo-style restaurant, a long way away from the simple fish preparations you might find elsewhere. Kappo-style equates to thoughtfully coursed meals featuring all five cooking methods traditional to Japan: steaming, frying, simmering, grilling, and raw preparations. Tamura says kappo more or less translates to “to take more care.”
  3. Previously, the popularity of the catering side of the business forced Chef Naoko to regularly close for lunch. This won’t be the case with the new restaurant.
  4. Otherwise, lunch has barely changed since the Chef Naoko days, but dinner brings a whole new set of bento standards. While Shizuku serves makunouchi bento — perhaps the most common form of bento box — for lunch, it now serves shokado bento, a four-compartment box featuring more elaborate cooking techniques, for dinner.
  5. It’s not on the menu, but you can order omakase and mini omakase tasting menus, too. Just set your price.
  6. Referring to her house-made miso, Tamura says, “It’s easy to make. You just have to wait six months.” The enlarged kitchen allows for more such house-made touches.
  7. Because Japan and Oregon are connected by ocean currents, Tamura often consults with Japanese fish mongers to find out what will be appearing off Oregon’s coast in the coming weeks.
  8. Compared with Chef Naoko, Shizuku has three times the kitchen space and nearly double the staff. The Chef Naoko arm of the business is now entirely dedicated to catering.
  9. The new venue has hanging sudare screens and a zen garden-inspired area with large stones replete with live mosses.
  10. Shizuku by Chef Naoko does not have plans to add cocktails. “Saké is too interesting,” says Tamura.

Shizuku by Chef Naoko

1237 SW Jefferson St, Portland, OR 97201 Visit Website

Chef Naoko Bento Café

1237 SW Jefferson St, Portland, OR 97201 (503) 227-4136 Visit Website

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