Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Inside Wasabi Sushi PDX

We've all heard the saying "don't judge a book by its cover" but we also know we've gotten burned when we fell to the temptation of an awesome label/name only to find that the cover was far better than what was contained inside. So, too, are new food trends sometimes more hype than substance. Put all of those doubts aside as we take a look at Wasabi Sushi PDX's new brick and mortar location.

Three short years ago Alex and Phyu Naung met with Steven Shomler to discuss an interest in opening a food cart and in the fall of 2015 they did just that. The following year they opened a second cart and an indoor location at CARTLab PDX. This year they are opening their first brick and mortar location, complete with full catering capabilities, at 980 SE Madison. We had the pleasure of attending a preview of the new location yesterday, including a new addition to their menu - the Sushi Burger.

Steven, guru of all things food and beverage in Portland, has not only coached the Naungs but is also managing the bar at the SE Madison location meaning that the four taps are pouring an excellent selection of local, craft beer. Selected to compliment the food menu, the opening line up consists of Culmination Phaedrus IPA, Little Beast Bes, Ruse Translator IPA and The Commons Citrus Myrtle with Zoiglhaus and Sunriver kegs waiting in the wings. For non-beer or equal opportunity drinkers there are also two sake options from Sake One, a trio of Whoa Nelly! wines, a pair of Vin de Days wines and bottles of Reverend Nat's Revival and Deliverance Ginger Tonic.

While we were definitely impressed by the liquid offerings the food was most impressive as well. Sushi is possibly the most an eye-pleasing of all cuisines but here, especially in the case of the sushi donuts (above), that eye candy is taken to a whole 'nother level. Similar to a maki roll in composition, there are three flavor combinations, each competing to be the prettiest and served on a nori sheet to facilitate eating by hand just as one would a sweet, doughy creation.

One item, new and available only at the Madison location, is the Sushi Burger served with fries, that upon quick glance might be mistaken for something one is used to. But taking a second, more detailed look (and taste!) all four options are served on buns made from pressed Forbidden/black rice seared on the grill with a side of sweet potato fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning. We sampled the shrimp katsu version whose elements - avocado for creaminess, slaw for texture and a spicy sauce - combine with the fried shrimp to form a complete package. As with any delicious burger, this one will get messy by the end but the use of multiple napkins is well worth it. The sweet potato fries (a food we are admittedly not a fan of generally) are thinner than most, cooked to achieve actual crispness and find a perfect flavor partner in the Old Bay were so good that we ate them all.

In addition to the "donuts" and "burgers" there are Sushi B-Rittos (including one coated with hot Cheetos and containing wasabi sauce) that rival the bulk of many traditional burritos. Fans of more standard fare will find familiarity in the sushi roll and bowl offerings.

Tonight at 5pm is the friends and family, soft opening with the grand opening on Thursday. The full menu will be available tonight and as an added incentive, pints are specially priced at $4.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Things We Drank: May 8 - 14

This week's beers are all over the board in terms of style, size of brewery that made them and geographical location. Where they come together is that they all garnered a rating of 4 out of 5. With that, let's look at what made each of them stand out.

Montavilla Brew Works Warren's Big Barrel Porter - The only Portland (or Oregon for that matter) beer to make this week's list comes from one of our favorite breweries to drink at. The captain's chairs at the bar invite one to stay for a good long while, which we did, and as an added bonus to the beer, Flying Pie Pizza is just across the street. (Of course we got some of that as well.) This was tops of all the beers we drank there that night, starting out with a slight aroma and a flavor [especially as it warms] of gentle maple syrup with a touch of barrel. A very drinkable 9%, upon looking back at the check in saw a note that "it would be great with flan," which is particularly interesting since we don't eat much flan. But we'll trust our past self and roll with that idea.

Firestone Walker SLOambic Batch #2 - Firestone Walker does great things when it comes to wild ales and this one, fermented with blackberries, is no exception. Tart, sour and mildly fruity, it has held up well (brewed 1 1/2 years ago) and it was a treat for our tart/sour taste buds to be sure.

New Holland Dragon's Milk Reserve: Mexican Spice Cake - We've had plenty of beers that are designed to have a similar flavor profile to Mexican cake or hot chocolate and they've been done with varying degrees of success. This Midwest-brewed one is definitely one of the best. Starting off with an aroma of coconut (which is somewhat puzzling as there is no coconut in it...perhaps it's the vanilla beans?), the flavor is nice and spicy...eventually. This is a beer you gotta let warm up, so pull it out of the fridge/cooler a beer before you want to drink it but then savor every drop of it.

Other Half Hop Showers - Found in our beer fridge, we apparently forgot to put a note on it so that we could remember who gave it to us. There are two likely subjects but whoever it was needs to be commended. East Coast IPAs (and we don't mean the hazy, NE-style ones that have become so popular recently) have generally failed to wow us, being spoiled with the abundance of and skill used in creating hoppy beers by many West Coast breweries, but this one most certainly did. Thank you, Joe, Kris or whoever is responsible for gifting this to us!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

PDX Beer Week Official Beer Preview

PDX Beer Week runs June 8 - 18 and in addition to the multitude of events listed currently, and will surely be added as we get closer to it, the official beer has been brewed. Hop Berry IPA from Culmination Brewing was brewed during a media preview that we had the pleasure of attending. Using marionberry and blackberry purees from Oregon Fruit Products, the premiere choice of brewers using fruit in their beers, it was dry hopped with Vic Secret and Galaxy hops and should clock in at a drinkable 7% ABV.

As a part of the preview we had the opportunity to taste six fruit purees from Oregon Fruit Products and talk to Chris Hodge, Director of Sales Brewing. The 85-year-old family owned company located in Salem processes fresh fruit into sterile, 18-month shelf stable packages. It's a straightforward process in which the fresh fruit undergoes a short heating period to kill any "bugs," then the skins and seeds are removed, all in a sealed system to eliminate contamination. 

While they produce over 20 purees, Chris brought a selection that included their number one selling puree, raspberry. That beauty in the middle of the picture uses berries from Washington and was the first puree that they made. Oregon grown blackberry (far left), pineapple, grapefruit , blood orange and mango rounded out the selection. The flavor of all of them were of perfectly ripe, just harvested fruit, a seemingly amazing feat for something that could (but why would you?) sit on your shelf for over a year. We're not generally fruit juice drinkers but if we had bags of any of these, especially the mango, on hand we might change our mind about drinking fruit.

In addition to the Week's official beer, Hotlips Pizza has once again created an official pizza. Featuring pork belly and kimchi, an idea from Tomas, owner/brewer of Culmination, the pizza's flavors are balanced and should be delicious with the forthcoming Hop Berry IPA. 

Those familiar with Hotlips know that they don't just make pizza, they also make a line of sodas. Using Oregon Fruit Products puree as well, their blackberry soda will be available for drinking side-by-side with the official beer. Beer, pizza, soda...win!