Eat Raw Fish, Restore An Ocean

True to form, if I put Japanese and Sushi on the roster, my turnout tends to be smallish. I thought it might help the situation if I selected a sushi joint that is Portland’s most talked sushi outpost, but it turns out a few of my regulars don’t care for the place.IMG_3164 Anyway, I was glad I managed six for my recent dinner at Bamboo Sushi, but Restaurant’s Roulette’s Sushi Curse continues (Sushi #1, a disaster, slow service, rice shortage, not enough food to go around; Sushi #2, canceled due to lack of interest; Sushi #3, a moderate success, but smaller crowd than usual; Sushi #4, good restaurant, only moderate interest.) Anyway, I guess if I ever want a big turnout for a sushi dinner I need to have it at that kooky, overflowing little place in Sellwood where you get gigantic, modest quality rolls. Yoko’s is still my favorite, but it’s hardly the place for a group dinner.

Portland may not be a trendy sushi mecca like LA, but we do have Bamboo Sushi, the only sustainable sushi restaurant in the United States, if not the world (Marine Stewardship Council Certified.)IMG_3158 Bamboo Sushi serves only items that can be harvested from species with healthy populations or farmed in an environmentally conscious way. In the beginning, the space that houses Bamboo on NE 28th (next to Ken’s) was an Eastside outpost of another sushi place, and I had lunch there once, and it was really fancy. Then Kristofor Lofgren, who I believe was associated with Masu East (the aforementioned restaurant) decided he would take over the spot himself, and go in another direction, a much harder direction. In fancy sushi cities, they ofter gravitate toward certain species of fish that are trendy and unusual to eat, not caring what their harvesting is doing to the species themselves or the oceans that support them. Mr. Lofgren, on the other hand,  decided he would open a sushi restaurant based on his own sensibilities, those being that you have respect for the sea and don’t market seafood that is over harvested or environmentally damaging to harvest. Although he wanted to open a popular restaurant, he insisted on putting the ocean before the eater, knowing there are plenty of abundant, fresh, tasty fish out there that you can create magnificent seafood meals from. Many people believed that Bamboo Sushi wouldn’t be able to make much of a go of it, but over the last 3-4 years it’s been packed, so much of a success that they decided to open a second location recently in NW Portland.

About a year ago I was looking for a Japanese eatery to put on the roster, and I investigated the original Bamboo Sushi, which had an incredibly large menu. IMG_3160They couldn’t do a group reservation on the weekend though, too small and popular, so we went to Yakuza instead (which was quite good, and had the best burger ever.) When I read that Bamboo Sushi was opening a larger location on NW 23rd, where Rose’s used to be, I thought they might have a different reservation policy, and sure enough, we were in for a Friday night.

It was a beautiful, warm Fall evening the night of our Bamboo Sushi dinner, and since I amazingly found a empty parking space very close to NW 23rd and Kearny, I was early. I decided to stroll around on NW 23rd, always a somewhat depressing exercise in futility for me, because it always makes me feel so inadequate, wondering “why can’t I live in a neighborhood like this?” “why can’t I shop in stores like these?” and “why can’t I put my big, fat foot in all this fancy footwear on display”. IMG_3165Obviously, NW 23rd is Mitt Romney, and I’m the 47%. (Although I do pay taxes and all that good stuff.) It’s true, I’m luckier than so many, and I can afford to eat food on NW 23rd on occasion, but it’s pretty obvious that unless something drastic happens (send those PCH Sweepstakes my way) I will never get to live a luxurious NW 23rd style of life. Those beautiful, big old houses and cool shoes do make me really sad though, and the thought of being able to walk to the end of block for some lovely foodstuffs too, rather than in my neighborhood, where you walk to the end of the block and become riddled with bullets in a gang incident (that’s only been twice in the last couple of years, though. So who am I to complain?) Seriously though, I love my little old house, and my sweet yard, and I have some good neighbors, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a place like NW Portland a couple of times a week? (I guess I need a more mobile chicken coop.)

Bamboo Sushi was full of these special neighborhood dwellers, as well as other trendy folk and more common lots like our group (Glenda excepted, of course.IMG_3154 After all, Portland Mag. branded her a fashion maven, and she would be a perfect NW 23rd dweller.) Bamboo Sushi NW was packed in general, all evening (only surpassed by Salt & Straw next door) and the acoustics, as such, were terrible.  We had to practically scream all night, and there were only six or us (sometimes the larger groups create their own noise issues.) Speaking of our friend Glenda, originally she was not going to join us, as her taste buds do not run toward “Asian-influenced” but after prodding her and pointing out menu items I could see her eating elsewhere, she relented and attended the dinner. She liked everything she had, and fairly stated, later in the evening, that she should not be so narrow-minded when it come to Asian cuisines.

Despite the fact that I would categorize Bamboo Sushi as a trendy sushi place in the fancy neighborhood (although the one in Kerns is slightly less fancily situated, but is near to beautiful Laurelhurst)  I must mention that the employees here struck me as incredibly enthusiastic and earnest, but not in a tacky, I’m a pre-programmed cheerleader kind of way. The waiter, a young guy with a faux-hawk and beard, came across as incredibly competent, genuine, and sweet.IMG_3140 He loved everything we selected, and kept telling us he was jealous of what we had ordered, loving all of it (Which makes me wonder if working in a place with so much complexly prepared food is different from other restaurants, where the staff often eats after their shift. If it takes a certain amount of time to craft every item, does the staff get to eat the food prepared at the restaurant, or maybe just boo-boos?) Even the guy who brought Glenda’s drink, another server, mentioned he was jealous of her cocktail, as he loves Nob Creek Scotch so much. As an illustration of what a good fellow the waiter was, when I looked through the specialty cocktail menu, I decided a Mojito looked the best, even though a Mojito at a Japanese restaurant seems totally wrong (someone else at our table ordered one after me, so I guess we’re all weirdos in this group.) I read a month or two ago that bartenders absolutely hate making Mojitos, as you always have to have fresh mint on hand, and muddling the mint for each drink is a major pain. There’s nothing that slows a busy bartender down like a Mojito. Anyway, when I mentioned to the waiter that I wanted to order a Mojito, every bartender’s least favorite drink, he said that it was really no problem at all, that the bartender had it down to an art form and it was actually quite easy. Everyone else had Sake, mostly by the glass, and David certainly couldn’t complain that he didn’t get a generous pour, as the little cylindrical glass was so full he couldn’t even lift it to drink, but luckily it came in this little overflow box (they must have a lot of generous pours here) so he had both Sake in the glass and Sake in the box.

The menus were really heavy duty, the multiple pages enclosed in really heavy plexiglass (like a 1/4 inch thick.) IMG_3173Often when people enclose their menus in plastic it seems rather tacky, but these were actually really classy menus, just rather cumbersome to handle and have on the table (and a tad slippery too.) I mention this because when I was finished with my menu, and waiting to order, it slipped out of my hand and the corner smashed Liz’s bare toe (that girl, we just can’t stop her from coming barefoot!) As she was in sandals, I think it hurt quite a lot, judging by how loudly  she screamed “ow” and kept grabbing her foot. Later Sam dropped some ice cream, and it landed inside Liz’s shoe. This is why I always keep my feet well enclosed at the dinners (that, and the fact that my feet are hideous, and could make a chicken cringe.)

Usually I document the list of food ordered, and talk about what people selected, and relay comments I heard or my opinions, based on what I tried. This wasn’t really that kind of dinner though. I do have the list of what was ordered, which I am adding right below here, but as almost all of this was small and intricate food, there wasn’t a ton of sharing going on, although Liz and Sam tried (I think I shared one slice of roll, but David and Shouhong barely had enough for both of them, let alone sharing with the rest of us as well.) IMG_3156When I go out for sushi rolls I’ve always been known to order and eat sushi rolls until I bust, at least three or four, but as Bamboo Sushi is more of a quality sushi place (expensive) I could not really afford to order more than two rolls and a starter, Because of this, I wasn’t foisting sushi in all directions, especially as it tends to take quite a few pieces of roll to fill me up. Everyone else stated that they liked their food, especially Glenda, but this wasn’t the usual dinner of overflowing comments, so I don’t have too much useful to write about (what do you mean, nothing new there?)

Salads Vegetables
Tsukemono – assorted house pickled vegetables -This was on our bill but I don’t even remember seeing it. Maybe David and Shuhong had it? Hopefully someone had it. As the bill came out as planned, most likely.

Grilled asparagus salad – grilled, miso dressed asparagus with panko crusted poached egg – Delicious, according to Glenda

Char grilled shishito peppers – grilled shishito peppers tossed with miso butter, Nueske’s bacon, topped with bonito flakes – Liz had this. I think I had one and liked it. It reminded me of the grilled peppers you get in Spain.

Agedashi tofu – marinated, fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms and bonito flakes (local OTA tofu) – I remember this going around, but I didn’t have any, as I can never get over the look and texture of tofu. Besides, how many more things do I need to improve my chances of getting Alzheimers (or was it some other form of confusion? I forget.)

Japanese maple mushrooms – fresh local mushrooms, pan seared, maple soy reduction, chive oil and basil – Sam was quite late getting to the dinner, as her evil twin convinced her it was at the SE BamSush, but she did eventually call us to tell us she was on her way, and to order some of these mushrooms for her. I think she liked them, but I didn’t try any, as maple is really one of my least favorite flavors in the entire world.

IMG_3147Truffled Avocado – This was an odd looking little item, sort of like something you would see Star Trek people eating in outer space, once it came out of one of those automatic food whappers (probably not the official name, I haven’t watched Star Trek regularly since those Trouble With Triffle days, although someone gave me a Triffle in grade school.) Anyway, I remember it was half green and half white (???) the Truffled Avocado, not the triffle) and Glenda really enjoyed it, as she’s into chic food.

Soft shell crab tempura – I had this, and since it was just a soft-shell crab, it wasn’t as expansive as most tempura you order, as soft shell crabs aren’t especially large. It was good though, light and not greasy, and the dipping sauce was unique, not your usual weird terriyaki derivative.

Signature Seafood
House made seafood charcuterie board, daily selection of five items – I think this is what Sam had, as I saw her at the end of the table gnawing on a selection of raw fish for her main meal.

Geoduck saute – sauteed giant clam with shiitake red miso bu”er and chive oil – We were laughing, because geoducks are such big monsters, and this was a small plate of slices, but Liz seemed happy with the taste.

IMG_3141“House on fire” mackerel – grilled mackerel, drizzled in red chili oil, topped with pickled mustard caviar, seasoned with lemon charcoal and alder wood smoke – Shuhong loves intense and spicy, but so far all the dinners she has attended have disappointed her in this respect. I think David hoped that this would be the dinner where she would find something to appease her palate, and that this would be the revelatory dish, as the description mentioned fire and red chili. It certainly was the most interesting thing to come to our table, as the serving dish was sort of a fragrant bamboo mini-barbecue where the burning part was taken away and the slightly smoky and spicy fish left behind. David said the fish wasn’t particularly hot, but had a nice intense flavor.

“Iron trumpet” – Painted Hills flat iron, seared rare, blanketing king trumpet mushrooms with bone marrow mousse and truffle salt . This was the dish I used to lure Glenda out of her comfort zone and into joining us at Bamboo Sushi.IMG_3162 This whole preparation screams “Glenda”, rare steak, fancy mushrooms, bone marrow mousse and truffle anything. If this was a French restaurant serving this, Glenda would of trampled us to get in the door first. When it arrived, it wasn’t the biggest portion ever, three half dollar sized rounds all sitting on a circle of green sauce, with shavings of mushrooms on top, lovely to look at in its aesthetic display. Although the amount of food for $12 was on the minimal size, Glenda said the flavor was completely maximized, tasting wonderful. Cue Glenda’s happy eating sound.

IMG_3163Rib Eye Special – Okay, when people complain about the prices at Ox, they should compare a $30 plate of rib eye there to $14 mini-plate of rib eye at Bamboo Sushi. Two people at the table ordered this, hoping for some really tender and exquisite beef.  Well, it was tender, and I think Liz said rich and flavorful, but tiny. If you get hunks of steak at Ox, you get shavings of steak at Bamboo. I mean, really, how often can you imagine me turning down steak, but when Liz offered me a sample I just could not take it, there was so little, and it cost so much.

Speciality Plates
IMG_3145MSC albacore carpaccio  – thinly sliced albacore with chopped, house smoked cippolini onion, pickled shiitake mushrooms – Liz had told me when she RSVPed that this was one of the most wonderful things she’s ever eaten, and while she looked elsewhere on the menu this evening (she loves food adventure!) her comments had David convinced that as a raw tuna lover, he should check this out.

House Signature Rolls and Regular Rolls
I heart anago  – sea eel, tempura asparagus and cream cheese wrapped with avocado and eel sauce – over the years I have discovered that if I want at least one really rich and savory sushi roll, I should get some combo involving eel. IMG_3157As a general rule, eels creep me out, and when I was snorkeling in the Caribbean and saw a giant sea eel swimming below me, it was almost enough to make me soil my swimsuit (it didn’t help that I can’t actually swim.) I doubt this sea eel was the same one I saw last decade, but this roll had a couple of ingredients that made it first class for me, largely the eel and adding tempura anything for those crunchy bits.

Philly Roll  – salmon, cream cheese and avocado – To be honest, this was about like anyone else’s Philly Roll. I know purists frown heavily at any sushi containing cream cheese, but what can I say, I love a salmon/cream cheese combo, and it’s so much better without the bulky bagel.

As none of us had big food, I think more of us would have liked dessert, particularly Glenda, but they were just too weird.IMG_3168 As Glenda said, a bad combination of East meets West. Bread pudding with red beans, I don’t think so! Sam and Liz are daring dessert eaters though, so they each had something, which they generously passed around the table. I could tell that Glenda REALLY would have liked some dessert, as she actually tasted both things, and as she will tell you herself, sharing and tasting are not traditionally on her list of absolute favorite things. I guess that although the desserts were weird, they were weird enough to be interesting, and did have some tasty components.

IMG_3172Chocolate egg rolls with candied ginger ice cream – This probably would have been okay if the wrapper had been a little more tender. The chocolate was really good quality, but you couldn’t cut the outside to sample it without ripping it to shreds.

IMG_3170Gingersnap and salted caramel powder with chai ice cream and caramel sauce – Okay, this is very peculiar sounding, and I think they told Sam part of it was some house made malt ( I do like malt, but not in liquor.) Anyway, this was a very pretty dessert, and had lots of interesting parts to taste and mix together. Very complex, and it seemed it was worth trying, and Sam had no problem downing what the rest of us didn’t eat.

As stated before, I think all of us enjoyed Bamboo Sushi. IMG_3149That being said, we all also like to eat filling meals, and I know I was only mildly full when I left the restaurant, and I might have had more food than anyone, with my tempura and two 8 piece rolls. Poor Liz, I know she spent over $50, and just had a meal of little bites (sort of like her Riffle NW evening.) David and Shuhong had a pretty dainty collection of items as well, and while I know they say it’s good for your health to eat lite, it still feels unhealthy for your wallet. It’s not too surprising that you pay much for Waygu Beef and get hardly any, and I’m sure Bamboo Sushi’s sustainable practices lead to higher costs for them when they have to purchase their seafood, so it’s natural it’s passed along to the diner. It’s a noble business, full of nice people, it’s just not the place to go if you are really hungry and have a modest budget for your meal. In that case, try one of those conveyor belt places.