Now I can tell you where to find the best happy hour for Japanese small plates.
Tung Tran, owner of the sushi and Japanese restaurant Miyabi Tacoma, has been adding more and more happy-hour items and small plates of sharable appetizers to Miyabi’s menu.
On the happy-hour menu, food and booze is priced at or below $5.
Yes. Five dollars.
Did I mention the $3 happy hour pints of Sapporo on draft? (I wish more bars carried draft Sapporo.) Also, there’s Asahi in the large bottle ($4). House sake at $3 to $5. Wine or cocktails are $5.
The 20-item happy-hour menu lists nibbles in the $3 to $5 range, including six hand rolls ($3), nine maki rolls ($5), plus gyoza, tempura, beef-wrapped asparagus, salmon collar and chicken karaage (all $5).
Vegetarians don’t get left out on this deal. There’s an avocado hand roll ($3), tempura veggie maki ($5), and agedashi tofu ($5).
If you’ve got a few more bucks to spend, I’ll direct your attention to the restaurant’s izakaya menu.
There, find a list of more than 20 Japanese small plates.
They’re dishes I rarely see on Tacoma Japanese restaurant menus.
In Japan, izakaya is a place (a Japanese tavern), but at Miyabi, it’s used as a catch-all term for small plates of Japanese nibbles (the kind that would be right at home at a Japanese tavern).
There are octopus dumplings, beef tongue, fried squid legs, steamed egg custard. There also are all kinds of fish parts you might not usually think about eating: the collar, belly or cheek.
A few of the izakaya items are duplicated on the happy hour menu, but those that aren’t cost around $5 to $8 each.
“We have a lot of Japanese customers and one of their favorites always is hamachi kama (the collar cut),” said Tran.
Salmon belly also is popular.
“It’s a surprising dish. When people eat salmon, they think about the filet, but there are other parts of the salmon that are great,” said Tran. “It’s a different part of a familiar ingredient. They’re surprised how good it tastes.”
A bite into the salmon belly was an exquisite sensory experience with hot, crispy, salty skin breaking to fatty salmon that practically dissolved upon first bite ($6.50). Like the hamachi collar, the salmon was simply seasoned and broiled.
Simplicity was a universal theme on the izakaya menu.
The best beef tongue I’ve ever eaten was shaved so thinly, I could practically see through it ($7). It was seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and grilled until the edges were just barely browned. The texture was softer, more supple than I’m used to with beef tongue.
“When you eat it, you dip it in the little bit of sesame oil,” explained Tran. “It’s simple, and it just goes down well with a cold beer.”
Indeed it did.
The octopus dumplings also did ($6, or $5 at happy hour). Puffy clouds of dough held lightly seasoned octopus. It was one of few dishes that came with a sauce (a little salty, a little sweet).
Fried squid legs proved a mighty match for beer with a light tempura batter that had been quickly fried ($6 regular, $5 happy hour).
Two more dishes to eat with Japanese beer: Katsuni was a pork cutlet (like katsu) simmered with egg and a salty gravy ($8.50). Chawan mushi was a steamed egg custard that took 20 minutes to make ($6). Bits of chicken and fish sunk deep into a custard cup holding a jiggly, savory mass of silky steamed egg topped with shiso.
Don’t overlook the yakitori menu, which lists several skewers. The pork belly skewer arrived as supple cubes of tasty pork ($5, or $3 at happy hour).
Where: 2919 S 38th St, Tacoma, 253-474-1650, tacoma.miyabisushi.com.
Happy hour: 4:30-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays.