My friend Inari and I stopped in last night for dinner and some Blake-brewed sake. She ordered the mussels, chicken yakiudon and kimchi, while I got the soba noodle salad, taro shoestrings with chili mayo and a little gua bao-type sandwich with fried tofu. moto-i's menu is very vegetarian friendly; whether you want bar snacks, soup, salad or an entree of some sort, you've got options. (I steered clear of the desserts because gelatinous Japanese sweets freak me out.)
And the rumors are true: little plates start at $3 and only one thing on the menu is over $10 (at just $11). Portion sizes are commensurate, and perfect for sharing if you order an array of plates. My soba noodles made a fine salad, seasoned with scallions and chili oil with fresh red bell pepper and jicama for crunch. I wasn't quite sure how to attack my taro shoestrings since chopsticks were clearly not effective, so I just did the four-finger pinch. They were ultra thin, crunchy, salty and quite tasty on their own, and I ended up pushing the accompanying mayo to the side. It added a little unnecessary oil to the freshly-fried shoestrings and, even if they did need something extra, that wasn't it.
The steamed bun was wrapped around a triangle of fried tofu, baby napa cabbage leaves, crunchy carrot slices and a drizzle of ponzu sauce. The bread was sweet, fluffy and a little chewy; just how I like my Asian buns.
In case you're wondering, I typed out the end of that last sentence a few different ways, but opted for the least-obvious innuendo.
Inari is half Korean, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Korean cuisine as a teenager, but it might do the servers at moto-i well to explain that kimchi is a condiment. Or maybe write that on the menu, where kimchi is situated in the soups and salads section. I'm picturing some people ordering it, having no idea that you lay the chunks of pickled cabbage and radishes over your next bite of rice or noodles to flavor it, and not being entirely sure what to make of the spicy stuff when it arrives in its two-pile presentation. Also, for a food that's traditionally fermented in brine, the kimchi was strangely unsalted. But there ends my griping about anything at moto-i.
When I wrote the recent beer cover story for vita.mn, I really, really, really wanted to spotlight Blake Richardson, proprietor of both The Herkimer and moto-i (and brewer of local energy drink, Triplecaff). I was fascinated with his choice to go from brewing his award-winning beer for The Herkimer to brewing sake and serving it up in the same brewpub environment, just a couple doors down. However, Blake was a little gun shy about his first foray into sake brewing and didn't want to announce "the world's first sake brewery-restaurant outside of Japan" before the first batch was even done. So I didn't print anything I already knew about moto-i.
But it turns out Blake had nothing to be shy about. He's currently got three sakes on tap, junmai nama, junmai nama nigori and junmai nama genshu, and I'm bananas for the junmai nama nigori. It's the unfiltered sake, which I recently discovered I have quite a taste for. Slightly sweet and cloudy in the glass with a milky mouthfeel; sake's inherent fermented taste at first, then slight floral and pear flavors, and it finishes amazingly clean. Very easy drinking, complete with requisite white sediment at the bottom of the glass. I could've hung around all night sipping it had I not had domestic duties to attend to. Inari ordered the junmai nama, which is maybe the more standard sake that people are used to. Light and clear, with more of a melon flavor and mild sweetness. moto-i's website promises a sparkling sake, and I hope Blake makes good on that soon.
Our tab for six menu items and five sakes (at $5.00 each) was $56.00. Not bad, and you'd get away for less if you went all vegetarian across the board. For the non-sake lover, moto-i has a full bar and several different beers on tap. I didn't really look at the beers but, considering Blake's Brewmaster status, it's probably a decent selection.
The walls at moto-i are a bit bare, but decor is still forthcoming. I do like the glass drop ceiling hanging over the bar and agreed with Inari that it would be cool to decorate the top of it seasonally--colored leaves in fall, fake snow in winter, orchid blooms in the spring--but decor is Inari's thing, as she was the Aesthetic Director for Thom Pham's restaurants for so long. Plus, Thom's establishments have always had a little feminine flair while Blake's are decidedly masculine. The fact that moto-i has 4 huge flat screen TVs and a shuffleboard table (just like The Herkimer) should be a good indicator that it's both a girl and guy-friendly place.