I never know what to expect when I go to a new place to eat. Reviews can be read but they all come from the perspective of that specific diner and their likes, dislikes and their personal dining history. It's even more difficult when it comes to Japanese food. So I enter each place wondering if I will find something that I can add to my personal this is good list or another generic bento/sushi roll shop that permeates the American dining scene.
I don't remember why I was in Portland one afternoon but I do remember it was warmer than I expected. And that I wanted decent sushi and that I wanted to try one of Portland's many Japanese restaurants. So I ended up at Masu. As the only diner. Don't take that as a bad thing, it was the middle of the afternoon when most people don't have a meal.
Since my objective was sushi I sat at the sushi counter. I like being able to look at the fresh fish and sometimes chat with the sushi chef. To me this is part of having good sushi. I was served a complimentary bowl of octopus with cucumber, Tako Su or Tako no Sumomo. I usually pass on octopus but this time I did try it.
However I was here for nigiri. So up first was hamachi (yellowtail) and sake (salmon). And just looking at the photo again I know this was excellent fish. The hamachi was buttery and the sake was one of two wild caught salmons being offered. Seriously take wild caught over farmed when you are having sushi. There are so many good reasons why it's better. So far I was very pleased with the offerings.
Another temptation offered up was dungeness crab served gunkan style. I also remember this. Light and delicious. I watched the sushi chefs preparing the fish for the nightly diners while enjoying my meal and learned a little of the head sushi chef's experience with making Japanese food.
A bit of unagi or anago which I can't resist. And the one way to see how good a sushi chef is, try their tamago. Both are sweet so I like to pair them towards the end of a meal. I very much enjoyed this. I could tell the quality of the preparation of the rice and the uniqueness of the tamagoyaki added to the enjoyment. I could tell this sushi chef was serious about Japanese food.
Time for maguro and I could tell this was nice fish again. There are differences with maguro besides there being different parts of a tuna that are served as different types of sushi. This was very good fish. Speaking with the chef he told me of his time working in Japan at a restaurant there. I know there is a difference in the focus of cooking at better restaurants in Japan. Quality and doing something right even if you have to repeat it over and over. Some decide it's not worth it and and some take it to heart. Definitely not the first catagory at Masu.
Last up was fresh sake (salmon) wild caught out of the Puget Sound if I remember correctly. It's things like this which differentiate sushi restaurants. Sushi is not something that you can skip quality on and have good food. That plus having a head chef that knows Japanese food, not just basic recipes but the ideas that go along with it. Turns out that great chef at Masu was Ryan Roadhouse. My surprise later on was finding out he was the person behind the new Japanese pop-up Nodoguro. Definitely a good surprise since not only is he serving up excellent Japanese food but has a great team of people working with him. I'm happy to have found two very good Japanese restaurants in one seating.
Masu is at 406 SW 13th Avenue, Portland, Oregon
More good news is that Ryan has started omakase service at Nodoguro. So far it's a couple nights a month and they sell out fast. If you want to get your sushi on follow Ryan Roadhouse and Nodoguro on Twitter or sign up for their email newsletter. Nodoguro's website is here.