Boken is the Japanese word for “adventure.” And that’s what owner Justin Cook intends to give diners at his new restaurant, Boken, which opened today in downtown Bend’s Brooks Street breezeway
“Food should be fun,” says Cook, who perceives Boken as a Japanese izakaya-style bar and grill.
Japanese cities are rife with izakaya — loud, social, late-night whisky bars specializing in a variety of small plates shared by friends after nights on the town.
Justin says that Boken will be less of a bar and more of a restaurant. To start, it will open 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Look for lunches to be added soon. As summer approaches, times may be further extended to take advantage of the large patio area it shares with the Madhappy Lounge.
Chef Michael Murphy’s menu will focus on the pan-Asian concept, not including sushi.
The main reason is that Cook plans to broaden the sushi offerings at his other Bend restaurant — the Kanpai Sake & Sushi Bar on Newport Avenue.
“Most of our patrons don’t think of Kanpai for anything but sushi,” said Cook. “And that’s fine. When we opened Kanpai, we never wanted teriyaki or yakisoba on the menu. As they are kept separate in Japan, we’d like to keep them separate here.
“So while there will be no sushi at Boken, we will partially adapt the non-sushi menu that we have been serving at Kanpai.”
Murphy said the menu will feature a variety of Asian small plates, not just Japanese. Diners can expect to see bold, fresh flavors — grilled plates, quickly prepared from scratch — adapted from such cuisines as Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Korean … and Filipino.
Filipino? As it turns out, Boken’s Bend-born chef spent a year and a half in 2007-2009 on the Philippine island of Palawan, working as executive sous chef at all four restaurants of the elite Aman Pulo resort. “Asian culture was always an interest of mine,” Murphy says. “The Palawan gig sealed the deal.”
His second stop after coming home to Bend was at Kanpai, where Cook hired him last July. Murphy’s culinary skills were a key factor in the decision to take over the Breezeway café — formerly home to The Downtowner and Lola’s — and open a new restaurant there.
“I’ve been in love with this space forever,” says Cook. “It’s a perfect example of, ‘Just ask and the universe provides.’
“Downtown Bend has a ton of Asian restaurants, but this one is different. If you know Portland restaurants, think Ping. Think Biwa.”
Nothing on the menu, Justin said, is priced more than $14. And bar manager Michael Eliason, formerly of Portland’s Fenouil restaurant on Jamison Square, promises a creative cocktail list.
Cook, 38, was raised in the surf city of Santa Cruz, Calif. His love of big waves continues to take him up and down the Pacific coast. Taught by his mother to love and roll sushi before he was a teen-ager, he became a professional sushi chef in 1992 in Bend, at the original Yoko’s restaurant.
He later studied under Andy Matsuka at the California Sushi Academy and worked in restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Eventually, he returned to Central Oregon and the former Sushimoto restaurant in Sunriver.
Justin opened Kanpai in 2005. He said sushi lovers can expect to see the menu there stepped up by summer, promising “delicate fish presentations, carpaccios, sashimi, and more [exotic] fishes.”