Kayoko and Matt Kaye's main motivation as chefs and restaurateurs has always been simple: to eat the food they missed from living in Japan.
First, it manifested home cooking, for themselves and their now-grown children. Then, they began serving the public with the opening of Kayo's Ramen Bar in 2016. And now, the couple celebrates shokupan—Japanese milk bread—and the cafes known as kissaten. Only, the homage is done entirely in toast form.
At Kimura Toast Bar—Kimura is Kayoko's maiden name—thick slices of shokupan can be the stuff of a light breakfast, a savory lunch or a meticulously composed dessert. Open since early August, it's right next door to Kayo's Ramen Bar in the former Ristretto Roasters space. Ristretto's espresso machine is still in service—the beans come from Proud Mary—and there's also flash-brewed Japanese ice coffee, matcha and green tea.
Matt Kaye says the original idea for Kimura was to do a "dumbed-down kissaten," albeit with more upscale, all-natural ingredients, as well as Kayoko's cheffy touch. A kissaten is something like a small-town cafe crossed with a dive bar, most often found in rural areas. The signature item is typically pizza toast, which is exactly what it sounds like.
"They're kind of a dying breed," Kaye says. "They're dark and smoky, and you have Japanese iced coffee and dessert, or curry rice, or pizza toast—coffee and comfort food."
But with no oven hood in the Ristretto space, a full menu wasn't really possible. So they decided to make it all about Kayoko's bread. The shokupan at Kimura is thicker and more flavorful than you'll find in even a high-quality Japanese convenience store sandwich. It is not at all like Wonder Bread, but still lighter than brioche.
"What makes shokupan different from white bread is the texture," says Kayoko Kaye. "It should be dense but fluffy. Soft and moist, but not doughy. It's the type of bread that you want to eat every day."
The key to shokupan is the tangzhong starter method: a cooked slurry of flour, water and/or milk, not unlike a roux. Having made her bread at home for many years, Kayoko had to adjust the recipe and cooking times for commercial baking. The loaves are actually made for Kimura at Dos Hermanos Bakery, just a few blocks up North Williams, with Kimura providing not only the recipe but 50 loaf pans.
You can get your toast simply, with French Isigny St.-Mere butter, including such flavors as bacon-cheese or yuzu ($3.50). You can get a cheese toast, with white cheddar or brie ($4.50). You can even get it under a hot dog ($5), adding another wrinkle to the "Is a hot dog a sandwich?" debate.
There are also five different kinds of avocado toast, a straight-up concession to the Portland market, Matt Kaye admits.
"It's kind of like vegan ramen. It's not remotely Japanese," he says. "But if we're going to have toast, might as well have avocado toast, right?"
But the heart of the Kimura menu is its more elaborate items. Here's the lowdown on three of them.
JAPANESE PIZZA TOAST ($7.50)
You can get your pizza toast with Olli salami, slices of a Fletcher's all-beef hot dog, or corn. Tomato sauce, cheese, red onions and green peppers are the default toppings, and a splash of Tabasco is also standard. "I wanted to serve authentic Japanese pizza toast," Kayoko Kaye says. But only to a point: Many kissatens just use ketchup—which they also put on what's known as Napolitan spaghetti—but Kayoko Kaye says she prefers "a richer, more flavorful sauce."
BEEF CURRY AND CHEESE ($7.50)
At a kissaten, you might get curry rice. At a Japanese bakery, it's karepan—keema (ground beef) curry inside a savory pastry, either baked or deep-fried. "Ours is the shokupan version," says Kayoko Kaye. "It is my husband's favorite." For this one, the toast is slightly hollowed out, allowing the curry to nestle under organic white cheddar, making for a gooey middle surrounded by a crispy crust.
BOSTON CREAM BANANA ($7.50)
Kayoko's housemade custard is flavored with three different types of chocolate: French and Colombian cocoa powders and semisweet solid. It's then topped with sliced bananas and a big sprinkle of "chocolate dukkha": coconut, chocolate and nuts. It's effectively banana cream pie and chocolate cream pie in one.
EAT: Kimura Toast Bar, 3808 N Williams Ave., 971-266 8087, kimuratoast.com. 8 am-3 pm Tuesday-Sunday.