Sustainable, earth-friendly, and wildly creative — that’s the food at Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Oregon.
There’s something green and deliciously creative happening on Portland, Oregon’s trendy NW 23rdAvenue. Bamboo Sushi is a sushi restaurant that’s committed to using only sustainably caught fish and putting profits toward supporting environmental projects like marine preserves. It’s also one of the most creative sushi restaurants we’ve ever enjoyed.
Bamboo Sushi is the brainchild of 29-year-old entrepreneur and environmentalist Kristopfor Lofgren. After investing with partners in a sushi restaurant in Southeast Portland, Kristopfor didn’t want the restaurant to use blue fin tuna, an expensive fish species that’s being threatened by industrial fishing. His partners were more interested in how much money they could charge for the popular fish. Kristopfor stood his ground and bought out his partners and Bamboo Sushi’s sustainable journey began.
Lofgren is a tall, slender man who exudes energy. When he talks about his restaurant he sounds more like a coach revving up his star sports team. His mission is to turn the restaurant world upside down by making sustainability both profitable and delicious.
“This is about creating a movement,” said Kristopfor during the opening of his second restaurant on 23rd Street. The new 3200-square-foot -space, built with sustainable materials like recycled wood and lighted with LEDs that consume less power than one 100 watt lightbulb, reflect the owner’s passion for saving the planet. “We have to be conscious about our effect on the environment. I want every restaurant in the U.S. to become sustainable.”
Kristopher is walking the talk. His company has invested $250,000 to help create a 405,000 acre marine preserve in the Bahamas. The preserve is twice the size of Manhattan. Studies have shown that not only do fish thrive in marine preserves; the preserves also improve the fisheries outside of protected areas. By investing in such projects, Bamboo Sushi is helping regenerate the ocean and the fishes that live there and guaranteeing that they’ll be fresh fish to serve in the restaurant for many years to come.
Delicious and Creative
Our meal started with two appetizers: a sushi roll made with tuna marinated in spicy yukke sauce rolled with mixed greens and cucumber and a fresh-tasking Kanpachi Carpaccio served in a compostable spoon. I found the yukke sauce a bit spicy for my taste, but the carpaccio was delicate and super-fresh.
The restaurant boasts one of the best saki selections in the city and each course came paired with a different saki or schochu, an earthy distilled drink that’s typically made from barley, rice, or sweet potatoes. Bamboo Sushi also offers interesting and inventive cocktails and delicious mocktails. I ordered the Girl from Impanema, a tall, refreshing sweet-sour glass of hibisicus and ginger, simple syrup, sparkling water, and a splash of Sprite.
The next course was a sashimi trio of ocean trout, yellowfin tuna tataki, and truffled stripped bass. The trout, whose reddish flesh made it resemble salmon, had a lovely clean, fresh flavor. The tuna came seared rare with a slightly smoky flavor. The stripped bass, the least successful bite of the night, was curled into a flower shape in the cup of a cucumber, which overpowered the fish and made it clunky to eat. A smooth, Kimoto Extra Dry Dewatsuru saki perfectly accompanied the sashimi.
Iron Trumpet came next and it was a wonderful treat. A thin slice of flat iron Painted Hills beef was rolled around a mellow, slightly earthy tasting trumpet mushroom and the whole thing was topped with a silky bone marrow mousse. This bit of heaven came paired with a “Seven Samari” saki that complimented the meat.
Pickles were up next – a variety of house pickled veggies such as cauliflower and asparagus. Though not as outstanding as the other courses, the pickles were an interesting break for the palate. The pickles were paired with Towari, a buckwheat schochu that’s the number one selling spirit in the world.
The next course, the seafood charcuterie board, upped the creativity to another level. Who would think of making tuna prosciutto, wild king salmon with inlaid shrimp, tuna blood sausage, fish pate, and, even uni crème brulee? The prosciutto had just the right chewy texture. The salmon was tasty with an interesting mustard accent. The sausage, well, I’m not a big fan of blood sausage and making it with tuna blood doesn’t change my mind. The fish pate was silky and not overly fishy. And the uni crème brulee was the surprise hit – an ultra creamy, buttery custard with a crispy, sugary top that added just the right accent. The charcuterie board was well paired with Sacred Power, a big, bold saki made with a rare rice.
The final entrée dish, House on Fire, was as dramatic as it was delicious. The waiter brought a tiered bamboo steamer and lifted off the top, revealing a layer of steaming dried red chilies. Then he lifted the next layer where pieces of charred Norwegian mackerel were being smoked by embers on the bottom layer. The fish, soft, smoky, and slightly oily was absolutely heavenly. So good, in fact, that my dining companion asked if we could have “just one more” and we did. The Return to Nature saki paired with the smoky mackerel proved fruity and a bit gamey and stood up well to this bold fish dish.
Our Bamboo Sushi gastronomic adventure meal was capped by a house made spicy, milky chai ice cream with a crispy gingersnap. The sweetness of the dessert was tempered by salted caramel powder. The dessert was complimented by Divine Droplets saki, a special rice wine that’s made in a igloo and literally dripped in the distillation process.
While our meal was a series of small bites, I found myself full and completely satisfied. As I thought about my meal, I’d experienced several gastronomic “oh my God that’s delicious” moments and was impressed by the fact that each course was incredibly beautiful and totally sustainable.
“This is more than about having a good meal,” Kristopher told us at the end of the evening. “Everyone who works here is part of something bigger. Everyone who dines here is contributing to something important. It’s about really all about making a difference.” – by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos by Anne Weaver, RFT Editor