Talk about protectionism. Ask anyone who eats out with any regularity what their favorite sushi joint is, and it's always "Oh, well, --- Sushi is the freshest.", or "You HAVE to go to ---- Sushi, their sashimi rocks." People tend to be wildly passionate about who's fish is freshest, whose tempura batter is crispiest. Everyone has their favorite place. Well, if you are fortunate enough to live in Portland, then I have the place that will put a stop to all arguments, because I believe I have found sushi Mecca behind an unassuming storefront on an eastside boulevard, the place where you can say with no misplaced confidence, "This place is the fucking best!" I've been twice in the last week, first with w after someone among her dog park pals mentioned how much they liked it. Liked it? We LOVED it, and as picky as I am, w can't hide it when she is not down. Not verbally, but when I get that look after asking "So what do ya think?", I don't even need verbalization. After our first visit, where that look was nowhere in evidence, we couldn't wait to return to see if it could possibly be true. We went back last night with our friends J&K, who also know their way around a spot of wasabi and a splash of soy sauce, and they were equally impressed.
Fried Tofu and Tempura Oysters
So are you ready? Do you have your car keys in your hand, waiting for the name? Okay, then get your hungry asses over to Hama Sushi at 4232 N.E. Sandy Blvd. (next door to Trader Joe's). You could so easily walk right by this place, as the delights inside are hidden behind frosted windows. Once inside, you're greeted by a very minimalist dining room, but in a good way. I've never had sushi in Japan, but this would be what I imagine a sushi place there would look like. Calm, nothing intrusive, all focus being on the food. And oh my god, the food. I haven't made my way through the whole menu yet, the miso soup and udon noodles being next on my hit list, but so far I have been knocked out by everything. Their special appetizers of tempura calamari and tempura oysters are perfect. The batter is so crisp and light, and even wrapped around the moistness of an oyster manages to hold its dry texture. The dipping sauce is perfectly flavored, complimenting rather than overwhelming. The fried tofu was also just as it should be, with a light batter wrapped around the softly silky tofu, with another stellar dipping sauce.
Then it's on to the main event, the reason we get so passionate about these places. Simply put, I haven't had finer, fresher fish in Portland, maybe anywhere else for that matter. During our first visit, I told w that "this is like eating nothing, but really, really good nothing." It is so fresh, leaving you with just the essence of the fish, the texture meltingly soft. The salmon toro (from the belly) was exceptional on both visits, this pure salmon flavor, a wonderfully fatty taste, then it was gone. I could live on this. The hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi plate was spectacular for the same reason. One spectacularly satisfying taste that leaves you gasping, then gone! I could eat pounds of this goodness. w's particular favorite nigiri is river eel, the thing she judges her sushi by. Kind of like me and my negroni when I go into a new bar. Her take? The river eel is the best she's had.
Incredible rolls and the River Eel Nigiri and Salmon Toro Nigiri
The rolls are equally creative and satisfying. Last night the spider roll was , according to J, exactly as it should be. The tuna/avocado roll was delicious, and the rainbow roll is covered in more of this incredible, delicate selection of piscine goodness, in this instance seven slices of fish (salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, white fish, sea eel, smoked salmon). Absolutely don't miss the chef's special roll, which has been different both times, last nights roll of salmon, tuna, avocado, and fish roe looking like this oceanic kaleidoscope dancing on the plate.
Spider Roll, Rainbow Roll, and Chef's Special Roll
All so good, and so reasonably priced. I've yet to have anything that didn't bowl me over. The service is attentive, but never intruding, and the pacing of the dishes is spot on. I'll report more within the week, as soon as I get my noodle on at Hama!