I stood before a big chalkboard on the wall opposite the foyer of the restaurant—the menu—like it was a great painting. My eyes descended the list, clinging to each item like a rung on a ladder; in reaching the bottom, the menu had become a stack of tough decisions. This menu had been cultivated to appeal to a diverse range of palates. Among the staples were surprises, more uncommon finds that suggested the restaurant’s desire to provide its patrons with novelty as well as quality. But despite the range and variety, the items on the menu were united in their commitment to a sense of place: the Portland beer scene.

The menu, or draught list, at Pai Men Miyake—where I found myself coming for dinner and drinks this past Friday—embodies Portland’s enthusiasm for craft beer in its selection of local Maine beers as well as international crafts from countries like Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and California (yes, I include California, whose brewing prowess makes it a kind of beer “country”). Portland is a beer drinker’s Epcot in its stylistic and geographic diversity, and Pai Men, though a Japanese restaurant, embraces the spirit of Portland’s diversity.

So yes, decisions, decisions. Luckily, I didn’t have to make many, as I brought along with me a troop of tasters: three other senior ladies who had consented to tackling the taps with me. We also had Ben with us, a sophomore and our designated driver, but also a self-described “serious eater.” You can read his column on page seven to see for yourself. While I stood slacked-jawed before the draught list, he stood with his nose in the air, commenting on how good the place smelled. The place smelled like yummy soup.

Besides the perfunctory addition of Sapporo (a cheap, ubiquitous Japanese lager), the tap list was clearly assembled with the interest of a beer drinker in mind. My advice to beer drinkers who are headed to Pai Men (and beer drinkers, you ought to be headed there) is to follow the implicit suggestion of the restaurant and choose the beer that seems most exciting to you. The conspicuously robust and thoughtful tap list suggests that Pai Men wants to honor its identity as a restaurant in Portland, Maine as much as a purveyor of delicious Japanese fare. The disjunction between Pai Men’s cuisine and its beer offerings (a tension encapsulated in the restaurant’s similarly unique moniker “Japanese pub”) should relieve restaurant patrons of the task in trying to discern “right answers” when it comes to pairing the food and drink.

That said, it isn’t a bad idea to keep in mind some of the principles of pairing beer and food.
Usually, when we think of sophisticated food and alcohol pairings, we think of wine. But beer is an excellent companion with food, and its numerous styles means there are endless combinations to play a  round with. The most basic rule of thumb when pairing beer with food is matching strength with strength. If you order a subtly-spiced witbier and proceed to chow down on a bowl of spicy curry, the curry will surely overtake the delicate complexity of the beer. The same is true for the reverse: a strong and smoky rauchbier will cancel out the delicacy of sashimi. Order what you like—there is no right or wrong choice—but try not to create too much competition for your taste buds.

If you are concerned with creating a happy marriage between your food and your beer,  keep the following in mind: what do you want the effect of our pairing to entail, flavor wise? With beer, there are major “effect” categories when it comes to pairing: complementary (roasty stouts and savory meats); juxtaposition (a dry and cleansing pale ale with a fattier dish); and, for lack of a better word, the creation of a new flavor from the union of two distinct flavors (who knew that the combination of imperial stout and oysters resulted in a delicious in-between sensation?).
Pai Men’s tap list encourages creativity, so run wild with it. I did. Our waitress came over and asked Margaret what she wanted to drink. I responded, “We’ll take a Bissell Brother’s Swish, a Bunker Bunkerator, a Liquid Riot Tripel, and, hmmm, okay let’s go with the Rauchbier.”
Young Benjamin ordered a lemonade and scribbled something about mayo and scallops. For what would not be the first time that night, Emily noted that the music was good (a refrain that took the place of reviewing the food). “Stop asking me what my beer tastes like,” she said after we ordered a second round. “Eat your miso,” she said.

“Can I try your miso?” asked Ben.

“Oriana, can I try Margaret’s stout with your pork bun?” I asked Oriana.

Since our meal on Friday, the tap list has already rotated, and what delightful (and failed) combinations I discovered over the course of dinner—how the Rauchbier’s smoked malts overwhelmed the food, yet alone, tasted like a drinkable barbeque; how the sweetness in the Bunkerator Bock harmonized with the savory brussel sprouts—are not much help to you. While the tap list may constantly change, the commitment to excellent and interesting beer is consistent, making Pai Men Miyake as much a drinker’s paradise as a haven for Japanese comfort food. Everything is a safe bet, so my advice is to experiment.