The best sushi shop in the Portland area is one you’ve probably never heard of: Kurata, a small mom-and-pop operation in Lake Oswego, offers great nigiri, sashimi and maki items, but it also delivered far more than raw fish.
You’d be forgiven for confusing this tiny, stylish place with Murata in downtown Portland—which, though it’s unrelated to Kurata, also deserves high praise. But Kurata’s small size and longer distance from the city center have forced owner Kikue Misawa and chef Tsuneo Kurata to focus on quality to build repeat business since opening in 2006.
Kurata’s rolls ($3.75-$6.95 for standard, $9.50-$13.50 for special) are well-balanced in flavor and texture. The Kurata No. 1 ($11.50) has some surprising twists and turns: The sushi rice is slightly warm, with a touch of vinegar that complements the spicy tuna and egg. The slight crunch of tobiko (flying fish roe) gives the roll one last delicious flourish.
You’ll often find interesting nigiri items, too, like kazunoko (herring roe, $4.50) or madai, Japanese red snapper. In fact, a white-fleshed fish like snapper is pretty much a blank slate, so it allows you to get a peek at all the barometers of a good sushi shop at once—from the quality of the fish and how it’s seasoned to the deftness of the cuts made by the itamae (sushi chef), as well as the chef’s rice-to-fish ratio. Kurata passes all of these tests with flying colors.
The menu showcases great cooked items, too. Chewy, savory fried octopus croquettes called takoyaki ($6.96) are a Japanese treat that are hard to find here in Portland, even among the most authentic of izakayas. The accompanying dressing is a hilarious mix of mayonnaise and a tart, Worcestershire-like sauce that could only be the mad creation of some drunken Osakans. Kurata’s takoyaki are excellent, with a good, crisp crunch to the batter that doesn’t mask the texture or flavor of the octopus inside. Also worth trying is the savory Japanese egg custard chawanmushi ($6.50), which tastes like egg-flavored soft tofu, served in piping-hot seafood broth. There’s udon and soba noodles ($6.50-$10.50), and even a salad of fried soft-shelled crab ($8) served with greens and a rice wine vinaigrette. This place is a little oasis of calm—though it’s pleasant to know that in addition to Zen, you’ll also find great sushi. Why else would you drive out to Lake Oswego?
Order this: Takoyaki, fried octopus croquettes that’s a favorite Osakan snack. ($6.95)
Best deal: Kani nigiri ($4.95), with generous heaps of real, sweet crab. I often ask Kurata-san for this dish as a handroll to finish off a meal.
I’ll pass: Inari ($3.50). The best fried bean curd pockets still belong to Tanuki.