Friday, August 26, 2011

Yuki Japanese Restaurant of Portland, Oregon

Yuki Restaurant: Go for the Oysters

The city of Portland, Oregon lives up to all its stereotypes–being environmentally friendly, being weird, and having good reason to be called Porkland as a reference to some of its over-bingeing residents. It's a bicycle-friendly town, which means it doesn't cater to cars, and therefore parking is a challenge, not to mention the inconvenience brought on by all the one-way streets. The fact that there is no sales tax in Portland is a singular perk.

I was chagrined at most of the food in this tree-lined town due to the blandness of flavors, but perhaps Pacific Northwesterners are overwhelmed by the pungent and the piquant. Some of the oysters I had in this city, however, were truly remarkable.

For Japanese-style oysters, look no further than Yuki Restaurant. Shigoku oysters, famous for their deep-cupped shells and firm insides, are sweet and refreshing here, especially because they are served with green onions, spicy grated radish and a mixture of ponzu sauce and rice vinegar. Meaning "ultimate" in Japanese, Shigoku is a Pacific oyster that hails from Willapa Bay, Washington.

Yuki's oysters may vary depending on the day. Sometimes, good ol' Kumamoto oysters are available. Kumamoto oysters, which originated in Kumamoto Bay of Kyushu, Japan, have a slippery consistency and are notably less sweet than the Shigoku. The Kumamoto oysters are about the same size as the Shigokus, and at Yuki's, they are served with the same toppings.

Another special at Yuki's is the Columbia River King Salmon sushi, although it doesn't taste as exotic as it sounds. The Ichiban Roll–with its hodgepodge of thrown-together ingredients like sun-dried tomato, shiso leaf, fried shallots, spicy tuna and cream cheese–has far more flavor.

From the colorful Makimono menu, which shows the price, description and a photo of each roll, one may also choose the $9.50 Sumo Roll, which is excellent with its pickled jalapeno, snow crab, seared salmon, and wasabi-flavored tobiko and wasabi mayonnaise.

Yuki Restaurant
930 NW 23rd Ave., Portland, OR

Tasmanian Ocean Trout and Truffled Avocado Sushi, Ring of Fire Roll, and the MSC Albacore Carpaccio at Bamboo Sushi of Portland, Oregon

It's All About Sustainable Sushi

In keeping with Portland's "green" culture, there is Bamboo Sushi, which is proud to be a "Certified Green Restaurant" as well as the first Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sushi restaurant in the world. The MSC, which is the world's leading independent third-party certification and eco-labeling program for sustainable seafood, has developed standards for fishing that are the global standard.

Quite possibly, Bamboo Sushi could be the most sustainable sushi restaurant in the country. And this doesn't deviate from the Zeitgeist. It's a highly publicized fact that bluefin tuna is being overfished, putting the species in jeopardy; the demand for hon maguro hasn't slackened, either.

Bamboo Sushi is doing what it can to help the oceans by properly harvesting its seafood. In addition, the restaurant plans to take a percentage of each dollar spent there to work with conservancy groups, with the idea of protecting areas where fish breed. Patrons also have the option to donate after they dine.

As environmentally conscious as this restaurant seems to be, I wasn't at all surprised that even their chopsticks are made of sustainably harvested teak wood.

Of the five items I ordered, the tasty Tasmanian Ocean Trout sushi, recommended by the chef, was my favorite. Perfect in its simplicity, it didn't need any enhancements–it was served bare and natural, sans toppings or lemon juice. Where I expected flavors to burst, as in the Truffled Avocado sushi (sprinkled with French black truffle salt), there was a bit of a let-down; the truffle salt did not taste very truffle-like at all in my opinion, and the Ring of Fire roll–with its fried oysters, yamagobo, albacore and jalapenos inside and yuzu juice and jalapeno marmalade on top, plus a crown of fried shallots–was good, but a bit blander than expected. For $13, this roll may have been compliant with carbon-footprint-lowering food industry standards, but it was not congruous with a palate as customized to strong flavors as mine.

For a refreshing sashimi plate, try the MSC Albacore Carpaccio, also $13. Chopped, house-smoked cippolini onion, pickled shiitake mushrooms, momiji, chervil, and Japanese sea salt adorn and flavor these raw, pink slices of fish.

Bamboo Sushi
310 SE 28th Ave., Portland, OR

Ginormous Sushi at Saburo's of Portland

Saburo's: The Walmart of Sushi Restaurants

There's an extraordinary wait for ordinary food at Saburo's, where diners sit or stand in a long line just for huge portions–oversize hand rolls that are stuffed to the hilt, gunkan-style sushi that are large and overflowing. It certainly can't be for the flavors. I tried the salmon belly nigiri that my sushi bar neighbors swore by, as well as a pillar of a hand roll filled with real crab meat and avocado, and while the size was larger than life, the flavors weren't very impressive.

There are also strange rules here. "You have to order all at once," the chef commands from behind the sushi bar, indicating you should check what you want on the dry-erase sushi menu with the marker provided. "I don't want to commit," I sniffed, diva-like. "Let's see how you do with the first order before I order more." Then there was the matter of having to jostle for space, for the seating at the sushi bar feels tight and claustrophobic, with hardly any elbow room.

"Try the Spider. It's ginormous," said the dude sitting to my left. On his plate was a heap of a softshell crab roll, the pieces ginormous indeed. His order of salmon egg sushi, served battleship-style with quail egg on top, was almost literally like two battleships.

Aside from the ginormous portions, patrons love Saburo's for the prices. Compared to most places, Saburo's is the Walmart of sushi bars, offering passable quality at a cheap cost. Cut rolls range from $5.75 to $7.25, and most two-piece sushi orders cost between $2.50 and $4.75, with an option to add quail egg yolk on top of some nigiri for 50 cents more.

The menu is quite specific here. On the page that lists special rolls, it says that "All Rolls are Made with Mayo Sauce and Smelt Roe Except Karate Roll and Shogun Roll." It's also unabashed to announce that "All Rolls are Made with Sesame Seeds Except the Big 'O' Roll." (According to the menu, the "Big O Roll" is a deep-fried affair of cream cheese, crab, masago, and a "Chef's Choice" mixture of fish served with a special dipping sauce.) There is even a variety of rare soft drinks on the menu: bottles of Ramune soda sell for $2 each and come in orange, melon and strawberry flavors.

1667 SE Bybee St., Portland, OR

Jumbo Scallop, Japanista Roll, and Dungeness Crab Hand Roll at Masu in Portland, Oregon

The Best Muki Hotate is at Masu

Located in the west end of Portland, the contemporary second-story Japanese restaurant known as Masu makes a great stop for sushi. The stylish, modern decor is enhanced by the light shining through the large windows along one wall, if you happen to be in during the daytime.

The Muki Hotate, or Jumbo Scallop, is unbelievably fresh and sweet here. Taking a bite of this soft, heavenly scallop nigiri is like tasting the ocean, or nibbling half fish, half silk. The eight-piece Japanista Roll, for $16, features spicy crab, spicy tuna and sprouts with seared yellowtail and a bright contrast of red jalapeno slices on top. It is served with a Hana sauce and sweet chili sauce.

Dungeness crab, which I've found to be in amazing abundance in Portland, is served at Masu; however, I have yet to find one restaurant in this city which serves it so fresh that it has me swooning, and which doesn't scoop it out of a plastic tub (which suggests it's not shelled in the kitchen but perhaps purchased beforehand from a purveyor). At Masu, I found my Dungeness crab hand roll to be pretty bland, although the avocado and Japanese mayonnaise I had requested to be added gave it a bit more flavor.

406 SW 13th Avenue

Portland's Restaurant Murata: Crab Hand Roll, Fresh Oysters in Ponzu Sauce

Portland's Restaurant Murata

Considering that Restaurant Murata was highly recommended by other sushi chefs, and that its front window practically flaunts its awards and accolades which extol it as "Top 100" and "The City's Best," I was utterly dumbfounded that the sushi rice was completely lacking in flavor. Sushi rice, one of the key elements to delicious sushi, should be properly seasoned with the right mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt. The resulting rice should be aromatic, sweet and savory, not so plain that it begs the question, Is this just regular white rice?

Thwarted by the sushi rice in my otherwise delicious hand roll with real crab, I ordered the Fresh Oysters in Ponzu Sauce for $9.95, and was glad I did. Although they were served in a bowl of cold goopiness with green onions and spicy pickled radish (without their pretty shells, aesthetics be damned), these oysters were opalescent, and rife in richness and taste.

Although the solemn chefs at the this traditional restaurant seemed oblivious to their bland sushi rice, they probably get away with it due to the cluelessness of the patrons, who perhaps just don't know any better. After all, this city is not known for its sushi, and many diners here seem more concerned with quantity than quality.

Restaurant Masa
200 SW Market St., Portland, OR