I haven't always liked Japanese food. In fact, there was a time when I couldn't stand the thought of it. You know, all that crazy fishy stuff, raw and slimy, who wants to eat that? This is what I thought as I entered high school, before I underwent a gradual change in my tastes as people are wont to do as they mature. Well, that, and when you spend eight years studying the language and then marry into a Japanese family, you change. You learn about all the different kinds of things that make up another culture's meal, you try things you might not try otherwise, and you find out that when you open up your palette to this kind of discovery you actually like stuff.
Well, maybe not for everyone, but that's how it worked for me. A similar thing happened during the two months I lived in Italy and the week-long vacation we took to Huatulco in southern Mexico - you find out a culture's cuisine isn't defined by the likes of places named Panda Express, Olive Garden, and Taco Bell.
I suppose that bit of rambling is to say I know Japanese food and have a decent bit of experience in it (and ate a decent amount of different things during a trip to Japan as well). We're lucky enough here in Portland to have some very good Japanese restaurants like Syun in Hillsboro, Biwa in SE Portland, Yuzu in Beaverton, and a bunch of smaller mom and pop type places, almost all of which serve solid food.
Still, it seems many Americans think only of sushi when it comes to Japanese food and people talk about going out for sushi like they do getting a burger, which is funny to me since never once in all my years with the in-laws or in Japan has sushi ever been considered a meal. That very well could be just my experience - I'm open to that - but what I'm getting at is I just have never really considered plates of just sushi a meal. That's more like a snack. Or, at least, that's how I've always thought of it. It's kind of silly, really, to think that way, but I did.
However, as I sample more and more different kinds of sushi I'm starting to change my mind. Part of this also has to do with I seem to be eating less quantity of food as well, partly for my waistline and partly because that's just what needs to happen as you get older and spend 75% of your waking hours in front of a computer.
So the other day, we went out for sushi for lunch. Well, we didn't necessarily expressly decide to get just sushi, but we went to a place in Lake Oswego called Kurata, and we've been reading on various messageboards for awhile how fantastic their sushi was. Just so you know in advance, they are only open for lunch on Thursday and Friday.
I expected Kurata to be busy on a Friday for lunch, but it sure was not. We showed up a little before noon and there were only two other customers. It's a small place so it only holds about 12-15 people total at any one time, but it didn't get more than half full the entire time we were there.
The menu has plenty of options, but after pouring over it we decided sushi sounded really good, and that's what they are known for, so why not?
We decided on a couple different things. We ordered a combination plate of tempura (shrimp, potato, onion, zucchini, and Japanese squash) that came with a California roll, salad, and miso soup, and then we also ordered an Alaskan roll with salmon and crab, a Philadelphia roll with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and a hamachi with a simple piece of tuna.
So yes, mostly sushi. And honestly, this was a boatload of food. The waitress kind of gave me an eye when I ordered the third sushi dish, like was I really going to eat all of that? Of course not - that's why there is a cooler in the car (we carry it everywhere, for leftovers). At the time I didn't realize how much I was ordering, but oh well.
The tempura was some of the lightest I've ever tasted, but it was still very flavorful with a good crunch. All of the vegetables were perfectly cooked, which I haven't always been able to say about other places we have been. The California roll was very well done and all of the ingredients were obviously very fresh - which, for me, is a key with sushi. Especially since I can get the same thing homemade on occasion.
Rice is also a key with sushi, and this was some of the best around town I've had.
The Alaskan and Philly rolls were eight, half-dollar-size pieces each. The salmon and crab (real crab, not that fake crap you get at a lot of places) in the Alaskan roll were a good combination, but I will say the crab was the dominant flavor (not that it's a bad thing at all). The Philly roll consisted of smoked salmon, cucumber, and, of course, cream cheese. Some places go crazy with the cream cheese, which is just weird to me. This one was delightlyfully restrained, allowing the freshness of the cucumber and the smokiness of the salmon to really shine in parallel instead of being snuffed by the Philly.
The tuna on the hamachi roll was excellent. The meat was tender, melt-in-your-mouth good. This dish had two rolls on it, with generous helpings of fish. My only complaint with this was a the wasabi - placed between the fish and the rice - was a bit too much for my tastebuds. Of course, I will also admit to not liking wasabi much at all, so it doesn't take a lot to be too much for me.
We loved our lunch, and we brought home plenty to nibble on the next day. Absolutely we will be going back for dinner sometime...and apparently I can make a meal out of just sushi - a very, very good meal.