Hamachi Jalapeno Sashimi
It was all about the water. The fact is, cities around the country were hard at work trying to woo Japan’s wildly popular ramen chain, Afuri, yet it was Portland that made the catch.
Ask Afuri’s US CEO, Taichi Ishizuki, and he will tell you. With a pH level around 7.5, Ishizuki explained the method behind Portland as their final choice.
“I went on a trip across the US just looking for waters,” he says.
He goes on to explain that Afuri’s broth is super-sensitive, with delicate seasonings and a precise balance of flavors. Per his own analysis, “Portland water makes our broth the best.”
Back in Japan, Afuri’s broth and noodles are made from the spring water bubbling up out of Mt. Afuri in Kanagawa Prefecture. The fact that Ishizuki considers Portland’s water not just up to the challenge, but even equaling the quality of that sourced in Japan is a point of pride for the City of Roses.
Maintaining a staunch no-MSG policy, Afuri sticks to the Japanese tradition of attention to detail and fastidious flavor ethos and cooking strictures.
Well-known in Japan for their explosive flavors and diverse menu options, Afuri brings the tradition behind the technique across the Pacific Ocean, and Portland residents are better off for it.
Their ambitious showcase of Japanese cooking not only includes traditional Japanese ramen, but other fine dishes, from noodles to exotic sakes and a varying degree of skewers and sashimi dishes.
Making their home in a sprawling converted Southeast Portland warehouse, Afuri’s interior is both bright and bustling while remaining welcoming and warm.
The island kitchen, conceived by local designer Annabelle Lee and implemented by the construction firm Orange, sits exposed and ringed with seats. It’s a stunning space where the sights and sounds of the kitchen intermingle with the conversation of guests and staff.
Ishizuki explains that “everybody in the kitchen faces the customers.” He wants to make sure customers know that Afuri relies on no pretense, with nothing to hide behind.
Sushi master Yoshi Harada hails from Michael Mina’s Pabu in San Francisco, while corporate chef Takeshi Kumazawa trains the stateside help.
In making its claim and setting its stake in Portland, Afuri aims to create a true American exposition of Japanese culture and traditional cooking methods, straight from the towering mountains of Japan itself. This is no ordinary Japanese ramen chain coming to add itself to the myriad of ramen shops popping up all over the city.
Fortunately, Afuri backs up the promise of its presence with truly remarkable dishes, both in flavor and presentation. A number of traditional Japanese whiskeys and custom cocktails also find their home amidst a sprawling menu. Japanese food customs are in full force at Afuri.
The evening starts with a Hoseki, composed of Awamori Shmauta, Suntory Toki, sweet vermouth, green chartreuse, a dash of bitters, orange oil and an orange peel. It’s a cocktail that’s as strong as it is fragrant, and with a decidedly Japanese feel to it.
Once properly lubricated and ready for the meal, a starter arrives in the form of two chef’s spoons. The first is a combination of sweet shrimp, red crab, quail egg, micro shiso and sesame. Quite frankly, everything is better with quail egg, and you simply can’t go wrong with the freshness of the shrimp and red crab, all rounded out with a hint of sesame.
The second spoon is made up of salmon roe, caviar, oyster, uni, ponzu cream, tobiko and scallion. It’s a spoon as decadent as it is delicious, with the pleasing crunch of scallion setting the whole thing off.
With two spoons cleared, a Hamachi jalapeno sashimi arrives, comprised of yellowtail, avocado, jalapeno, housemade yuzukosho vinaigrette, micro greens and fried shallots. The vinaigrette is the star of this dish, providing the perfect flavor template by which all the other ingredients are balanced out.
Winner of the presentation award is the kobe beef tartare. The beef couldn’t be more perfect with ginger and scallion and topped with a jidori egg yolk. Surrounded by wonton chips, it provides the perfect culinary approximation of the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Oh, and it’s also quite delicious.
Serving as the intermediary, two botan ebi, or sweet shrimp arrive. They are fresh, plump, hearty and cooked to perfection.
Finally, the main claim to fame arrives, a large bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Salt tare, pork broth, scallion, chashu, seasoned egg, kikurage mushroom, red pickled ginger, garlic and scallion oil round out a hearty meal swimming in delicious broth.
But why is that broth so good? It must be something to do with the water…
Afuri Ramen is located at 923 SE 7th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. For hours and menu information, visit their website at afuri.us or give them a call at (503) 468-5001.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.