Leaving the bold and brazen in downtown Portland, the new Masu East plays the role of subdued little sister to the Japanese restaurant's original Southwest 13th Avenue outpost. No anime silhouettes on Saturday nights, no mod mural behind the sushi bar. Out east, the only noise is the chatter of neighborhood folk, and the only painting is a stark, white textured landscape. (Colorlessness is the new ultra-mod, at least according to Masu's baby sis.)
But minimalism suits the second edition to the Masu family. While contemporary black and bamboo lines run through both restaurants, owners Maria Rosengreen and Jeff Berback have no intention of competing with the nightlife scene they've built on the westside. Masu East is quaint and inviting, but it closes before midnight.
Starry-eyed promoters may be disappointed by such a concept, but sushi snobs should rejoice. Head sushi chef Brandon Hill, direct from the downtown locale, spices up fried oysters and yellowtail with jalapeÑo marmalade for his "ring of fire" roll. Using his bartender-like charisma, Hill also encourages uninhibited raw-fishers at his 10-seat bar to put their fate in his hand-rolling skills and let him devise colorful combinations of blackened albacore, tempura avocado and salmon-skin salsa.
For fire-friendly foodies, executive chef Lyle Jost (formerly of Mint) brainstorms a small rotating menu of noodle-based entrees, such as the seared venison leg served with the college-freshman favorite, ramen. Indecisive couples can nibble on the "land, sea, air" combo—including samples of various dishes like the buffalo strip loin, tempura scallops and duck breast—since, thankfully, many of Masu's offerings are perfect for sharing (especially with prices averaging upward of $15).
Drinkers need not fret, either. Although the intimate dining room doesn't allow for the sashaying and socializing associated with downtown's Kampai Hour, the southeast spot's full bar and list of premium sakes will tide you over before a pub crawl. Besides, after several lychee "Tokyo drops," you'll be glad you have a stool to call your own.
Masu East, 310 SE 28th Ave., 232-5255, masusushi.com. 5Ð11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5 pmÐmidnight Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.