It isn’t easy to sustainably harvest seafood. Indeed, many believe it’s impossible. With fisheries around the world straining under the weight of the world’s appetite, is delivering a sustainable, yet affordable, seafood experience even possible?
If Kristofer Lofgren has anything to say about it, yes it absolutely is. As the founder and CEO of Bamboo Sushi and the Sustainable Restaurant Group, he’s made that his mission.
It Can Be Done
At his side has been Brandon Hill, the group’s Director of Operations and one of Lofgren’s right-hand men since day one.
“He sat me down one night eight years ago,” Hill explains, “and said ‘hey, I want to open a sustainable seafood restaurant,’ and I thought it sounded pretty cool. He had put a solid business model together.”
Prior to asking Hill to work with him, Lofgren had wrestled with a management board at a failing sushi restaurant where he had an invested interest. The establishment, where Hill was head chef, didn’t conform to Lofgren’s sustainable dream.
Though he tried to convince his partners of the validity of his idea, Lofgren knew this was something they may not go along with. And he was right. He would eventually buy them out.
Hill, having established himself as a valuable member of Lofgren’s team, gladly went along for the ride. And thus Bamboo Sushi was born.
Re-birth and Growth
“We closed the previous restaurant and did a little re-branding,” says Hill. After completing their changes, the intimate South East Bamboo Sushi location opened.
Not long after came the Northwest 23rd location. While their South East location was more intimate – a small room with low ceilings – the Northwest side is the most pedestrianized street in the state. Well-known as one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Portland, this location was built to cater to a high volume of area residents and tourists.
“We want to give people what they want in the neighborhood,” Hill proclaims. “So for the Northwest twenty-third location, we wanted clean lines and a more minimalistic approach. We wanted it to have more of a city feel, louder with higher ceilings.”
Their third location arose from more inauspicious beginnings. It originally started out as Bamboo Izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment that does not serve sushi.
Seeing Bamboo in the name, area residents automatically assumed they would find delicious sushi there. Imagine their surprise when that wasn’t the case.
“After six months of continuing to have people come in, sit down, and then get up and leave, we transitioned izakaya into a sushi restaurant,” Hill says.
Since then, Bamboo Sushi has blossomed, and Lofgren’s sustainable restaurant group aims to project a moral imperative across the restaurant industry.
“It doesn’t even have to be sushi,” Hill says. “If we have a chef come to us who wants to make the best Italian restaurant, and it falls within our ethos, then we would support them.”
In the meantime, while we wait for sustainable Italian, Bamboo Sushi will continue to cater to our moral imperative. And in a rare coup for Portland residents and area visitors, this is a quality experience that won’t break the bank.
“We work very diligently to keep our price point at a very approachable level,” Hill says. “Our average price per person is only thirty dollars, compared to seventy and eighty for other sushi restaurants. And we are still serving sustainable seafood.”
Don’t assume that serving affordable seafood sustainably will result in cut corners in things like presentation. These are dishes that are just as delicious for the eyes as they are for the mouth.
No Small Detail Left Out
The star-shaped albacore carpaccio is a study in understated presentation. Thinly sliced albacore makes the foundation for chopped, house smoked cippolini onion, pickled shiitake mushrooms, momiki, ponzu, chervil, and Japanese sea salt. You’ll find yourself stabbing at the plate to get that one last piece of ponzu soaked mushroom.
Perhaps you’ll indulge in a specialty Usuzukuri plate, with pseudopods of thinly sliced whitefish stretching out from a core of finely chopped jalapenos, ponzu, green onions, tobiko, and sesame seeds. Not sure what some of those ingredients are? Trust me, you won’t care.
In fact, Bamboo Sushi lays out each ingredient on their website, in great detail. Tobiko, for instance, is described as “the roe of the flying fish known as tobiuo in Japan. Naturally crimson, these tiny eggs are often dyed many other colors to accentuate the presentation of various dishes.”
And that is just one description amongst many. Not even green onions are left out. They get their own section, where we learn they are called spring onions in Britain and bunching onion in Australia. Who knew? Thanks, Bamboo Sushi.
The point is, Bamboo Sushi wants to make sure you know exactly where your food originates from, even if it’s something as simple as a green onion.
Once you’re done both savoring and studying your dinner, move on to dessert. Try the Azuki bread pudding. I was ready to use all these colorful adjectives in describing it, but this is one dish that needs no expounding upon.
It comes with Japanese red azuki beans – which are a small, russet-colored bean with a sweet flavor – generously poured over fresh brioche bread. It’s then topped off with yuzu cream cheese, mixed berry sauce and honey orange ice cream. Simply yum.
With mouth-watering dishes such as these, you might not be inclined to care where the food comes from. But knowing it comes from a sustainable source is that much better.
So next time you’re looking for a sushi dinner you don’t have to feel guilty about, Bamboo Sushi has three locations to satiate your sustainable sushi desire.
The southeast Bamboo Sushi location can be found at 310 S.E. 28th Avenue, Portland, Oregon, 97214. They are open from 4:30pm to 10:00pm nightly, with a happy hour from 4:00pm to 6:00pm Monday through Friday.
Look for the northwest Bamboo Sushi location at 833 N.W. 23rd, Portland, Oregon, 97210. They are open from 5:00pm to 10:00pm with happy hour from 5:00pm to 6:00pm Monday through Friday.
And finally, the aforementioned Alberta location, situated at 1409 N.E. Alberta Street, Portland, Oregon, 97211. They are also open nightly, from 4:30pm to 10:00pm, with happy hour from 4:30pm to 6:00pm Monday through Friday.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.