There's something about fish—and the phenomenon extends to sushi—that prompts people to tell wildly exaggerated stories. For example, I once ate whale sashimi freshly cut from the belly of Moby Dick, just seconds after Jesus Christ himself—history's most overrated fisherman—plucked Herman Melville's elusive protein blimp fresh from the Pacific Ocean. Honestly.
Okay, so not all sushi stories go this far. But for those of us who enjoy eating sushi, there's still something alluringly elitist in being told by your dining companions that a restaurant offers "the best sushi in town." Lately, Portland's food scene has been buzzing over the Pearl District's arrival of a sushi master. Following a nearly 20-year stint at his former restaurant in Lake Oswego, and Japan before that, this man is being hailed by the city's bloggers and columnists as nothing less than a sushi messiah. Bow down and prostrate yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, before Hiro Ikegaya!
I was hoping to be able to tell you that Ikegaya's particular sushi story, like so many that one hears in Portland, has been overstated. However, the sushi at his restaurant, Hiroshi, appears to live up to its creator's reputation. He may not actually be God incarnate, but Ikegaya's sushi sure comes close to heaven.
Hiroshi contracts with better suppliers than most other sushi restaurants in town, and 40 percent of its fish comes straight from Japan. This fact, combined with flawless cutting technique, results in the delivery of otherworldly sashimi. While this raw fish seems normal on the outside, it weighs and quivers differently on your chopsticks, setting off a series of flavorful explosions in your mouth.
Twenty pieces of sashimi, made from five different types of fish, will run you $54—enough to sufficiently test the waters. The salmon, tuna, yellowtail, octopus, and striped bass are beyond excellent, but if you prefer, try the chef's choice of seven kinds of fish, depending on the daily specials, for $80.
If you want to flex your credit card a little further—and be warned, even those with willpower and other financial obligations such as rent might well be tempted to do so at this point—dip into the creative menu of appetizers, where the same attention to freshness and technique combine with European influences to cast edible magic spells.
A salmon and sweet shrimp roll with lemon garlic sauce is decadently balanced; sea urchin served ravioli-style inside raw northern Japanese scallops is palatable even to avowed urchin-haters (that would be me).
Monkfish liver served with sturgeon caviar in truffle vinaigrette is the one dish on the menu I found to be trying too hard. Instead, I prefer the simpler tuna tartare with wasabi sauce, which captures the bloody luxury of a steak tartare, but with fresh plums, capers, and pine nuts thrown in to remind your mouth it's fish you're eating. Then there's carpaccio-style seared wild yellowtail for $15, which is smoky yet complex—and we've not even touched on the nigiri or sushi rolls yet.
The flame-grilled, marbled tuna belly (the fabled Japanese otoro) or straight tuna belly nigiri goes for $7 apiece, which is all you need to know about it. Meanwhile the Hiro Special roll combines tuna with crab, avocado, Japanese chiles, and the faintest hint of mayonnaise into something life-changingly delicious, and there's plenty more where those two came from.
Just go to Hiroshi once before you die. Please? It will be worth the considerable expense, and this time I promise I'm not exaggerating.