Downtown Hood River’s restaurant scene added a multi-profiled new place in July, called Mugen Noodle Bar.
Tai and Pat Prasertyoten opened Mugen, for which fusion might be too simple a word to describe its offerings.
Mugen’s changing menu reflects “any country in the Pacific, whatever we want to make,” Tai said, with his takes on French and Italian food added for good measure.
While the Prasertyotens are of Thai heritage, Mugen, pronounced “Moo-gen,” (hard g), is a Japanese word, written in kanji script, meaning dream and fantasy, or infinity.
“We want our restaurant to be the dream: What we want to do, and create what we want to do,” said Tai. He and Pat also operate Mugen in Tigard and at Hood River Mugen are joined in the kitchen by Pat’s sister, Noe.
“A lot of the food we cook here is what I grew up creating,” Tai said. “I had a lot of influence in Japanese, Vietnamese and Laotian.” Noe, meanwhile, brings in Thai specialty.
“I just go crazy with my things,” Tai said. “I incorporate French, Italian, Japanese, depending on what I want to make. We try different things. Sometimes we like it sometimes we don’t,” he said with a laugh. He described a recent dish using octopus tentacles, battered and fried and served with a seasonal mix salad, and his practice of cold-smoking chicken wings.
He explained that with regular smoke “you get heat from the smoke to cook the meat, but with cold smoke you just want the smoke, so the time of cold smoke is less, about 30 minutes. Farther from the heat, but not too far. We have a pan, one side the chicken and the other wood and under the chicken will be water so it prevents the heat from getting to the meat. We cook it in the chicken fat, spreads the cooking.”
He recently brought in a supply of zucchini flowers for an appetizer of blossoms stuffed with crab and cream cheese.
Mugen, 212 Fourth St., also has a liquor license, and sells beer, wine and cocktails. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, dine-in or take-out.
Pat also ran a restaurant in Springfield and the couple has two daughters and a son. Tai said his parents emigrated from Thailand in 1999 and he was born Oregon, growing up in Clackamas and going to college at Portland State University. He joked about working as a teenager at an aunt and uncle’s Portland restaurant, and swearing never to work in a restaurant again.
“I grew up in the restaurant business. After they sold it, I said, ‘I hate restaurants, I don’t want to do it anymore.’ And here I am, in my third restaurant!”
He said Tigard Mugen is “focused mainly on noodle dishes. Here we’re planning to focus more on the Pacific Rim style and focus on small plates.”
The menu “changes depending on what’s available. We try to work with local farms. That was part of the reason we moved to Hood River. The farms are so close, we can get into contact so much easier, though that it has not been the best time for that because of COVID.”
“What we noticed is how Hood River residents are really health conscious. We rotate the vegetables a bit,” Tai said.
Mugen moved into what was the long-time space for the noodle restaurant Kaze. The Prasertyotens outfitted the dining room with new lighting fixtures and paint, and added gleaming wood tables from Denali Furniture in Portland. Some of the decor, including bar chairs, may seem familiar. “We removed the bar, and the only thing from there is the chairs, but they go well with the color of the new tables,” Tai said.