Helmed by chef and co-owner Rodrigo Ochoa, Janken is Portland’s latest pan-Asian restaurant in the city’s sea of dining options. Yet from its interior design to the plates and presentation, it’s clear that this restaurant is unlike anything the city has seen in recent years. Practically a counter-movement to the pandemic era of takeout, Janken transports guests to a polished interior and extravagant experience. Plates of Korean- and Japanese-inspired seafood arrive on decadently filled trays holding pebbled ice and orchids as garnish. Cuts of A5 wagyu come alongside flaming stones, inviting guests to sear their own cuts tableside. The ambience is reminiscent of establishments in Las Vegas or Miami, the latter from which much of Ochoa’s own dining background stems. Following stints at ritzy spots like Zuma and Komodo, Ochoa welcomed the opportunity for a change of pace in the peaceful Pacific Northwest.
Drinks and a Show
While the food at Janken is easily its own experience, the drink menu is also a standout. Cocktails like the Pineapple Express (pineapple, mezcal, Cointreau, cane syrup, cardamom bitters, lemon) and the Cherry Blossom (chocolate-infused Woodford Reserve, Ancho Reyes, cherry chocolate chili tea, lemon) arrive in smoking cloches. Servers twirl the domes as they lift them, as smoke simultaneously cascades along the tables.
The Tokyo Fashion (Japanese whisky, plum honey sugar, house bitters) arrives with a wood puck sitting atop the glass. Servers blowtorch the puck, filling the glass with oak-smoked fumes, which complement the Japanese whisky and housemade bitters (star anise, wasabi, and peppercorns) within it. The Rose City (peach blossom vodka, peach rooibos tea, orange, lemon, peach bitters, prosecco), presented in a glass chalice, gets a spritz of rosewater once its lid is lifted—only to reveal a rose-shaped ice cube in the glass.
A Drink With a Story
According to Ottawa native and Janken’s beverage director Joey Wrinn, aesthetics are key to an enoyable drinking experience. “I’ve always been a big fan of allowing a cocktail to tell a story, and I feel that a cocktail not only tells a story with its ingredients but also with its presentation,” he says.
The Pineapple Express, for example, comes with a pineapple that’s been charred on the grill. But its arrival in a cloche amplifies the concept of smoke as a flavor component. “It gives you a sense of that smoke fragrance, so you understand right away when you’re getting the drink that it’s going to be a tropical smoky oasis,” Wrinn says.
In developing the menu, Wrinn spent time researching elements of Japanese and Korean culture. “One thing I truly love about Portland is that it’s so culturally diverse and everyone knows a lot about different cultures,” he says. However, “it was important for me to surround myself with aspects of Asian culture that are widely known.” For inspiration, Wrinn drew up mood boards filled with images of Korean desserts, Japanese architecture, herbs, and popular cocktails in each respective country.
Another important element in developing Janken’s drink menu was the ability to incorporate its existing kitchen ingredients. The bar’s rendition of a dirty Martini is called the Tsukemono, and the “dirty” component features a housemade pickling liquid used for the restaurant’s appetizers. It adds a small element of “approachable, warming spices,” Wrinn notes.
A Coursed-Out Drink Menu
Although drinkable at any hour, Wrinn emphasizes that certain cocktails on the menu are meant to enjoy during certain times of a meal. While the sweeter, bolder Cherry Blossom and Night Owl (espresso tequila, espresso, Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Frangelico) make fitting dessert drinks, the lighter Rose City and What’s the Matcha (gin, dry sake, St. Germain, lime juice, cucumber, and aloe) are excellent aperitifs. Meanwhile, the Nightshade (ube-infused white rum, lime oleo saccharum, lychee, mint, soda water) is ideal for sipping throughout the night.
Wrinn’s succinct nine-item drink menu is full of intention and helps complete the overall Janken experience. With a summer menu already underway, along with an experimental drink program to accompany the restaurant’s private dining room, expect another impressive show on the playbill for warmer days ahead.