Few names in Portland are associated more with sustainability than Bamboo Sushi. Enter their location on Northwest 23rd and you’ll see a panoply of awards and certifications blanketing the wall near the entrance. It was a vision owner Kristofor Lofgren was completely dedicated to – no easy feat for a sushi restaurant. Indeed, Bamboo Sushi was the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the world.
Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, Portland – pun intended – ate up the idea. In a land where “local,” “organic,” and “sustainable” are more than just buzzwords, Bamboo Sushi has thrived. After first opening the doors seven long years ago, Bamboo had expanded to three locations in Portland.
We covered Bamboo in August with an interview with Brandon Hill, Lofgren’s Director of Operations at his umbrella company, the Sustainable Restaurant Group. This week we are going to treat you to an exclusive look at the new Bamboo Sushi on the corner of 12th and Stark in the revitalized West End of downtown Portland. We’ve got the scoop direct from Lofgren himself, and even a few words from Mayor Charlie Hales, who was present for the grand opening.
The Fourth and Final
According to Lofgren, this fourth location – with its huge floor to ceiling windows and high ceilings – will be their last in Portland. “Eventually, the East Coast is the goal,” he says. “No one is focusing on sustainable sushi, like we are.”
But can Bamboo Sushi’s sustainable ethos survive scalability? Lofgren thinks so. “We are still very small in the grand scheme of things,” he says.
Lofgren also highlights a goal of using local products from each market, as they enter the market. “Of course we will bring some things in that we believe are the best in the world, but if you’re sourcing lettuce or produce and meats, those are going to come from ranchers and producers local to that area,” he explains.
But even as they get ready to export their sustainable sushi idea across the nation, Lofgren doesn’t forget the city that has supported him since the beginning. “We’re very proud to be an Oregon-based business,” he says without hesitation. “We’ve been in business for seven years this November and we are headquartered here.”
Even as we talk about expansion plans, we can’t forget about the reason we are here, which is their new location in downtown Portland. It’s a story just as steeped in Portland history as Bamboo Sushi itself.
West End Development
If you’ve spent any amount of time in downtown Portland, you no doubt remember the derelict building that sat on the southeast corner of 12th and Stark. This neighborhood wasn’t known for a particularly upscale our touristy vibe.
“This building used to be a methadone clinic,” says Lofgren. “As you can see from the ceiling, this building had a fire from vagrants who were here, but we thought it was cool so we kept it. So there is some Portland flair and history left in the design.”
And quite a design it is. The new Bamboo Sushi boasts an expansive, but intimate layout, with tight tables and close proximity all around. The most notable feature are the huge floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch around the corner of the restaurant, something Mayor Hales notes in his remarks.
“Opening up this building to the street, to life on the street, is exactly where we want to go as a city,” says Mayor Hales. “Bamboo Sushi represents a beautiful execution of what we want to see in new development for our city.”
Although Mayor Hales is serving out the end of a term he decided not to pursue a second time, he is still a fierce advocate for the city, especially when it comes to Portland’s food scene. “We are such a food city now,” he says. “I travel the world on behalf of the city and we keep running into people that say they’ve heard of the Portland food scene. We are now known as a great food city, so we should feel good about that,” he finishes.
And feel good about that we do, not only when it comes to neighborhood revitalization and environmental values, but also fantastic flavors and subtle textures, which is something else Bamboo Sushi is well-known for.
If there was one minor bump in the road as Lofgren built out the Bamboo Sushi brand, it was their third location on Alberta. It was originally opened as Bamboo Izakaya (an izakaya is a Japanese drinking house.) The problem? They didn’t serve sushi. Customers would come in expecting sushi, and when there was none, would leave.
Although that location didn’t prove to be a smashing success like the others, Lofgren has taken from that experience and incorporated it into developing this new establishment. “Even though the name says Bamboo Sushi, all the hits from the izakaya are here. It’s a hybrid. It’s both,” he says.
If the food and drink is any indication, the marriage of both ideas has been executed beautifully. The night begins with a sake called Divine Droplets. It is of the highest quality ranking a sake can get and is drip pressed in a real igloo, providing an extremely pure quality and crisp flavor.
Next up is a simple salad that is heavy on aesthetic appeal and bold flavor. The ‘Thai Taco’ as it is called, is an octopus cooked in-house and served with a Thai ponzu sauce and traditional Japanese salad. The octopus is succulent and bursting with complexity and the textures blend together beautifully.
Representing the sushi side of things is the nigiri moriawase. From left to right, the meal begins with a simple tuna with tomato and basil. A perfect follow up is an ora king with orange, evoo and sea salt. The madai with basil and lemon zests provides a burst of tart that’s leveled out by the decadent red crab with garlic butter. Put together, all four represent a sushi plate you aren’t likely to forget.
So next time you are wondering around a revitalized west end, whether it be after a trip to Powell’s or before a scoop or two from Ruby Jewel, stop in to the new Bamboo Sushi. The new location delivers on all the same promises made by the prior three.
The new Bamboo Sushi is located at 404 SW 12th Avenue in Portland, Oregon, 97205. For more information, visit their new website here. Beginning in January they will be open seven days a week from 11:00am to midnight. During the summer, they plan to open a roof deck, bring in DJs, and offer patio seating outside, so expect a lively atmosphere. They are also offering a few limited reservations. For reservation information visit the waitlist management system on their website or call 503.444.7455.
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.