610 NW Couch
One of the strangest ideas I ever encountered was the concept of strip club juice bars. "Let me get this straight," I marveled, after a local friend told me about the concept. "It's a strip club, but instead of watered-down booze, they serve juice?" I had visions of a sunny, healthy boutique where topless girls made wheatgrass shots and juiced entire grapefruits in the nude. I thought that perhaps Portland was the greatest city since ancient Rome. One disappointing night later, I learned that these juice bars were plain old seedy clubs where angry-looking 18-year-olds bought Dole orange juice from even angrier-looking faux bartenders.
So with that lesson forgotten, I was ecstatic to learn about Lush, the Chinatown strip club/sushi bar. A titty club without the guilt—a Hooters without the wings (and ugly shorts)! With visions of wasabi, poo-nanny, and a wealth of obvious and crass double entendres, my buddy Matt and I went downtown as giddy as a pair of 18-year-olds.
Lush doesn't look one bit like any of the sushi joints I frequent in Northeast Portland. It looks more like a small, upscale strip club that you'd see on a Cinemax movie—leather and chrome interior, candles, and a conspicuous absence of keno gaming. In all of our excitement, Matt and I arrived a healthy two hours before the next customers (11 am), and pretended to intently "check out the scene" to disguise our embarrassment at being the only two guys in a strip club.
We started our meal with delicious edamame—warm soybeans crusted in sea salt, which were probably the most addictive bar snack I've ever eaten. After devouring an entire bowlful, we felt like deer at a salt lick.
"Do you have a house cocktail list," a thirsty Matt then asked. Our waitress wagged her head. "Do you have any house drinks at all?" "No," she exhaled loudly. Matt pressed on. "Are there any drinks that you make really well here? What do you recommend?" She looked at us like we were hustling her for a free lap dance. "I'll just have a Makers and water," Matt mumbled, which he later reported as tasting just fine.
Next we ordered gyoza pot stickers, which were hot and crispy from their oil bath. Now, I'm not trying to suggest anything here, but for half of 2003, I ate the frozen gyoza from Trader Joe's on a weekly basis, and these tasted, well... remarkably similar. Our waitress, who effectively hated us at this point, brought us California and cucumber rolls, and with the Trader Joe's connection in mind, I couldn't completely convince myself that the sushi wasn't direct from the refrigerated aisle down the road. But the sticky rice was sufficiently sticky, and hey—Infinity was rumpshaking to DJ Shadow onstage, so we were happy. We finished off with green tea macha balls—ice cream covered in a chewy gum coating, which I loved and Matt spit into his napkin. (Come to think of it, Trader Joe's sells these, too).
By this point, we had been at Lush for two and a half cycles of the (lovely) dancers, stuffed ourselves with bad sushi, and had our fill of bored-stripper conversation for a lifetime. There was little else to do but go home and tell my wife why I had been out so late—I was having sushi with Matt.