Monday, February 8, 2016
Daruma - Portland's Sushi Gem, Discovered!
Dan and I love sushi and truth be told since I've spent most of my time in Portland, pregnant, I couldn't truly enjoy the sushi pleasures of this town. Dying to try Daruma, a little authentic sushi joint on the corner of 42nd Avenue and Fremont Street, we finally made some time to visit.
It's easy to overlook Daruma amongst the hubbub of popular dining establishments on Fremont, but that's exactly what makes it so great. It's totally under the radar, but once you step in, you'll quickly come to recognize just how special it is.
The space itself is small but nicely designed with lots of minimalistic touches and clean design. The sushi bar is the most prominent thing in the restaurant, as it should be and while you'll see some diners eating at traditional tables, the sushi bar is where it's at. It's fun to watch all the sushi preparation, carefully tended to by their talented chef. Yes - there's one man in charge and you can tell he's the head honcho and knows his stuff.
Aside from the sushi bar, there's other cool decor elements that caught our eye such as the looping footage of Akira as well as a hand drawn map of Japan, demarking each city and the type of fish you can find there. It was a work of art and something I very much appreciated, knowing how much work goes into a custom illustration such as this one.
While the menu isn't overly extensive, I think that's a plus for the diner. In addition to sushi of course, we also chose for a few simple appetizers and got some nice complimentary dessert, which was a huge plus!
Appetizers - Starting things off with a simple seaweed salad and a cucumber salad, we were pleased with our choices. First off, they were presented beautifully and looked elegant in their traditional handcrafted bowls. These reminded me of something we had back in Japan when we visited a few years ago. The seaweed salad was on the purplish side instead of the green seaweed I'm used to but it was a lot more subtle and lighter on the palate. The cucumber salad on the other hand was more acidy and presented a sharper flavor profile. Both things were nice as starters and weren't too overpowering, helping to prep our tastebuds for the sushi.
Sushi - While Dan and I each picked our own sushi rolls, we ended up sharing everything, which is always fun. Everything was once again presented exquisitely and looked (and smelled) very fresh. We ended up going with the Beaumont, the Wilshire, and the Enoki roll. The first two were fish based while the third one was a veggie/mushroom roll. They were all excellent but my favorite was the Wilshire roll with gorgeous fresh salmon, kaiware sprouts, parsley and cucumber. While it was simple, all ingredients were beautifully composed and were ever so fresh.
Dessert - As I hinted above, we received a little bonus dessert from the chef which was a mango custard. Served in a little shot glass, it was a perfectly sweet and slightly tart bite at the end of our meal. It also proved to be a great palate cleanser.
Service and Cost:
From the minute we came in, we felt well taken care of by Daruma's friendly but unobtrusive waitstaff. I was impressed by how much knowledge they have about the sushi and how genuine they seem to be about what they do. The sushi chef especially impressed me and I loved the personal touch he offers to Daruma's patrons.
Costs aren't wildly cheap but are totally fair for the excellent sushi, atmosphere and service. We walked out of there paying around $30 per person, including with the order of drinks. I'll be back again very soon - and that's a promise.
Daruma - 3520 NE 42nd Avenue, Portland OR 97218