[6-11 – the restaurant has now closed. You can try the chef’s next venture at Mirakutei.]
Sushi has become so common and, much of the time, is so mediocre in Portland, that it’s easy to forget how the best sushi can be downright transcendent when made with high quality fish, and prepared by chefs who respect and are well practiced at the nuances and precision of this ancient Japanese art form-slash-cuisine. At Hiroshi, this means that top of the line, properly prepared ingredients are put into rolls that are balanced and bursting with things like the sweet meat of real crab. Buttery cuts of buri (yellow tail tuna belly), or toro tuna taste nothing of the refrozen and badly defrosted fish found elsewhere. Innovative and inspiring side dishes of appetizers, salads and soups are as good as the best you will find in any top end dining from Tokyo to Los Angeles. This is food that is classically Japanese and at the same time pure modern haute cuisine.
For sushi lovers like me, Hiroshi’s is a godsend.
I find most sushi in Portland to be perplexing. For a city this close to the bounty of the Pacific Ocean, with strong ties to the Pacific Rim and a growing populace of discriminating palates, we just don’t have the quality sushi one might easily find in other west coast cities such as San Francisco, Vancouver (B.C.), or even Seattle. Sushi in Portland seems to range from the convenient “it’s ok but it’s in the neighborhood”, to the occasional “above average”, to the gimmicky (Giant Portions! It comes on a conveyor belt!), to the bargain basement deli counter variety. With few exceptions, Portland sushi is fair to middling at best.
You Get What You Pay For
Quality sushi doesn’t come cheap, but it is by no means out of reach. Yet there are those who appear intimidated by Hiroshi’s reputation and avoid it all together. “I hear it is outrageously expensive,” or, “it seems like it might be too exclusive,” are just some of the comments I’ve heard. All of this is utter nonsense.
Yes, Hiroshi’s is more expensive than most other sushi restaurants in Portland, but it is far, far above all of them in quality. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.
And let’s just get the price issue out of the way right now. You can easily rack up a bill that costs more than a flight to Tokyo if you focus solely on things such as Hiroshi’s appetizers (in the $10 to $20 dollar range) and special rolls ($10 to $15 each). But a cost comparison shows that a California roll at Hiroshi’s made with real crab, or a whole set sushi box lunch that includes soup and salad, is only a couple of dollars more than the standard, and is certainly worth a splurge. For example, two pieces of Unagi eel will run you about $5.50, yellow fin tuna is $5.00 and specialties like wild king salmon belly are $3.00 per piece. A person with a light appetite can have a nice sushi lunch for under $25.00, while those with a strong sushi craving can expect to pay at least $40.00 for dinner. I’ve paid that much easily for a ho-hum seafood platter at many of Portland’s more upscale restaurants.
Much of the quality at Hiroshi’s can be traced to the fish itself. Hiroshi is one of the few sushi chefs in Portland to use a different fish source than other restaurants, and his special efforts are well worth it. You will find fish here that you cannot find other places in town. Outside of a couple of examples (Murata on SW Market Ave. for example), Hiroshi’s fish is incomparable in taste and freshness.
A New World of Flavors
Chef Hiro Ikegaya is a sushi master. With close to three decades of experience, he closed up the well regarded Hiro Sushi in Lake Oswego last year to open Hiroshi’s understated storefront restaurant on NW 10th near Lovejoy St. Importing some of his sushi chefs from other cities to make sure he finds the best chefs possible, Hiroshi San is an absolute professional when it comes to putting out consistently good food.
Steeped in formal tradition, Hiroshi’s doesn’t mess around with the basics – the rice will always be correctly prepared and seasoned, and the fish always fresh and properly and carefully cut. Yet Hiroshi’s is also absolutely innovative when it comes to some preparations, showing a modern sensibility and creative individuality that reminds me of well regarded famous Japanese restaurants like Nobu in New York or Matsuhisa in L.A.
This is especially apparent in the appetizers. Just don’t expect to find tempura here. In addition, this is not a place to take sushi neophytes or picky and fussy eaters unless you purposefully want to freak them out. Hiroshi is known for his raw fish, and the appetizers and salads reflect this. The restaurant seems especially fond of plump sweet sea scallops and makes them a variety of ways, including sashimi style scallops and salmon mille fleur cut translucent thin with a nutty gingko and tangy light sour cream sauce ($14.00). Or my personal favorite: sliced large sea scallops stuffed with uni sea urchin “ravioli style” and served with a truffle vinaigrette sauce ($16). The result is a multi-layered sensation of velvety texture with the funkiness of the uni underlying the sweet sea tang of the scallops, the bracing bite of vinegar and then the earthiness of the truffles. A sophisticated and complex dish, and I guarantee you won’t find anything else like it in Portland. The decadent monkfish liver and sturgeon caviar with mustard sumiso (vinegared miso) and truffle vinaigrette sauce ($15.00) is one of those very special occasion dishes; the monkfish liver a certain rival for the richness of foie gras, although I can see this dish being a bit intense for some.
There are at least a dozen other appetizers both raw and a few cooked choices, ranging from a Japanese-Euro hybrid of finely diced Aji (mackerel) tartare formed into a ring mold and served with Hiro’s signature soy mustard sauce ($14.00) and Carpaccio style sashimi dishes that are sometimes seared, sometimes not. One I like is the seared wild yellowtail with a medley of tomato, onion, and sesame seed oil drizzled on top ($15.00). Other things such as miso soup, a traditional clear “suimono” bonito and kelp based broth soup served at dinner (sometimes clams or rare matsutake wild mushrooms are available in the soups), and sunimono cucumber and vinegar salads (made with either shrimp or tako cooked octopus) round out the offerings.
Salads too can be inspired, although the standard lettuce salad on the menu is not. They range from $10-$13, and are served with in-season vegetable and fish combinations and very good dressings, like a miso-mustard (Hiroshi’s signature dressing it seems) or a very light yuzu citrus vinaigrette.
Of course the main focus of Hiroshi’s is sushi; sit at the long wooden sushi bar and ask the sushi chefs for their recommendations. This is the way it is often done in Japan, and is one of the best ways to get choice cuts and to incorporate something new in your sushi repertoire. One recent December day the chef recommended the oysters “Gunkan” (battle ship style) which came freshly shucked on the spot and then chopped, mixed with a delicate rice vinegar and scallion mignonette type sauce, and placed in the rice with a small wrap of crispy nori ($3.50 per piece) to keep them in place. This pop of icy oyster flavor with the crunch of the seaweed wrapping is like the finest oyster on the half shell you’ve ever had, refined and given a French-Japanese twist with the vinaigrette. Other special items include a tender and sweet baby abalone ($4.00 per piece), halibut kobujime which infuses the fish with kombu seaweed extracts ($5.50 for two pieces), and the wonderfully rich fresh salmon belly ($3.00 per piece).
Toro, Otoro, or Toro Aburi (approximately $5.00 to $7.00 each per piece) are from the bluefin tuna which is considered to be on the endangered watch list and according to the NY Times is becoming a highly controversial fish choice. You May think twice about ordering them, even if they might be some of the best sushi to ever cross your lips. However, The buri (from yellowtail belly) is in a similar vein and is considered fine to eat by the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch and other environmental and government organizations. The buri is more like fine steak than fish, is seasonal (sushi chefs tell me winter is the best time to enjoy it) and is a rare cut from the fatty belly of (hamachi) yellow fin tuna. It’s deeply marbled, rich, and more than one or two pieces satisfy ($7.00 per piece). Some, including myself, actually prefer the buri over the toro.
Hiroshi’s also does quite well with their maki (rolled) sushi. Hoso (single ingredient) maki like tuna or hamachi with or without scallion are made the way sushi rolls should be. No soggy nori, cold hard or gloppy wet rice or falling apart rolls here. The seaweed wrapping remains crisp, while the rice is at room temperature and perfectly molded around the ingredients. The California rolls are textbook perfect with a fair amount of lump crab bound lightly with the smallest amount of mayo, ripe avocado and micro thin strips of cucumber served sprinkled with freshly toasted sesame seeds, radish sprouts, and optional masago fish eggs. You’ll never want to buy a California roll in the supermarket again after eating this version.
Fancy rolls include things like the soft-shell crab roll with avocado, smelt roe, and scallion wrapped in seaweed with a crunchy daikon radish wrapping ($13) or the Hiro’s over the top special roll that includes different kinds of tuna draped over a crab, avocado, scallion, and Japanese chili pepper roll ($10.00). These rolls seem popular, and look quite filling and beautiful, but I’ve never tried them.
For those who don’t like rice or nori, sashimi is available by the piece or as a mixed or single variety set lunch or dinner that includes rice, soup and salad. For the undecided there are also a couple of set chef’s choice sushi dinners/lunches (a six piece sushi with additional tuna roll, salad, and soup is $17.00), while there are a couple of non-sushi items like teriyaki steak, which frankly was somewhat tough and chewy and not that good the one time I tried it. Hiroshi offers a variety of beers, a small wine list, and a decent collection of sake. The house salad is mediocre with a stack of micro greens in fairly heavily dressed vinaigrette. Just stick with the fish and sushi based items including the appetizers and soups and you won’t be disappointed.
Service is usually fairly professional and friendly, but there have been times when the service does not keep up with the prices or the quality of the food. Servers sometimes disappear for painfully long and unexplained times (even when the restaurant is not busy), occasionally fail to check in during dinner or refill water or tea, sometimes forget orders, or one time, brought two hot steaming towels before my dining companion arrived, meaning I received a nice warm oshibori cloth, while he received an iced cold one.
Communications about the menu are also a bit problematic. As most of the sushi chefs are English as second language speakers, I cannot always fault them for not understanding certain detailed or obscure questions. However it is very helpful if servers can act as translators by explaining certain menu items or offering suggestions as needed. A couple of the servers at Hiroshi do not seem very versed in sushi terminology or understand some of ingredients or menu items. When a server can’t tell a diner about the food, especially in a fine dining establishment, that’s a problem.
While I can state with all confidence that I think Hiroshi’s is the best sushi in Portland, there are a few issues with food and service that keep it from being comparable to the best restaurants anywhere. Still, Hiroshi’s is a wonderful addition to fine dining in Portland, and does a terrific job elevating sushi to the type and quality we’ve come to expect in sophisticated “sushi towns” like Los Angeles or Vancouver, B.C.
- Grade A-
- Address: 926 NW 10th Ave, Portland OR. 97209 GoogleMap
- Phone: (503)619-0580
- Hours: Dinner 6-9 pm Tuesday-Sunday