Top Google hit yields a surprising blend of authenticity, atmosphere and flavor in the Pearl District
By Ella Crawford and Bradley Davis/// Staff Writer and Business Manager
Eating decent sushi at a reasonable price can be a struggle in Portland — even when settling for conveyor belt service. But sometimes, when procrastinating on a Sunday night, the crave hits and you absolutely need the type of California roll that only your favorite trendy Bay Area sushi joint can serve. If you go to Google and lazily type in “sushi restaurants in the Pearl District” in order to get a taste of nostalgia, Sinju Sushi will be the first restaurant to pop up.
As one would expect at a hip restaurant in the Pearl, Sinju’s entrance is an imposing wooden door in a traditional Japanese style, that leads to a similarly-designed restaurant and a dark, color-pulsating lounge with post-cubist ottomans and cocktails with far too many syllables. Since we didn’t meet on Tinder and didn’t have enough sorrows to drink away, we choose the oak-covered dining room.
Seated among tapestried doors, tasteful foliage, and the sound of an expert itamae at his cutting board, we inspected our menus.
Our first dish was a simple miso soup and salad. The miso soup was light, flavorful, and, unlike many cheap sushi bars, not too sodium heavy. Next up to plate was the “Agedashi Tofu” appetizer which contains tofu deep fried in a light tempura batter. Once you gain a hold of your (beginner’s) chopsticks, these come to life beneath the cover of mild vinegar sauce and green onions. Neither crunchy or yielding, with a sweet umami taste, our meal started strong.
The next dish brought out was their “Pearl District” specialty roll. Crab salad surrounded the shrimp tempura center while salmon, avocado, and a creamy sweet sauce topped the sushi rice. This made for a decent, though unspectacular roll: far better than any Maybe-There’s-Crab-in-There Roll from the common dives around town but still best reserved for a boozy happy hour.
Finally we took the thrifty leap of faith present at every sushi establishment: the chef’s choice. We specifically opted for a plate called “Chirashi Don” that promised a fresh selection of sashimi, raw fish layered over a bed of sushi rice. The hamachi, or yellowtail, was our favorite of the night and was fantastic. The maki tuna and sake salmon were also quite good. However, the roe-covered eel, red snapper, and another mystery fish were not too pleasing. Their meat wasn’t bad but tasted out of season. Aside from the chef’s reunion tour-quality picks — half rock stars and half disappointments — our waiter never told us what fish we were served, so the picky or distrustful best order á la carte. However, the rice that was packed down in the dish’s bottom was of a quality best described as “dank.” After finishing up all the sashimi, we found ourselves digging our chopsticks into the corner of the bowl to ensure not a single grain was neglected.
For dessert we ordered a treat that sounded like it came from Starbucks, but the “Green Tea Matcha Creme Brȗlée” tasted like it came from Stumptown. With a softer flavor than traditional creme brȗlée the sweet glaze and rich cream sent this dessert and our tastebuds on a delightful spin. Dinner came to a total of $49.00, which is more than fair for the dishes we ordered. Definitely not a weekly hangout, but Sinju would make for a great date night, celebration, or happy hour sanctuary. While the walk to Sinju has been extended to about a twenty minute, thanks to the new Pio stop, it is a fun treat in the heart of the Pearl District. If for some reason the cute parks and cuter dogs in the Pearl don’t work for you, Sinju has two other restaurants located in Clackamas and Bridgeport.