As a restaurant critic, I have a Cheers fantasy: that I’m a regular somewhere where everybody knows my name.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve been hopping around to review the latest, while also always trying to find the next overlooked gem, so becoming Norm hasn’t been in the cards. Until now.
You’ll see me bellied up to the sushi bar at Kaede on a regular basis.
Kaede, a small 16-seat “sushi bistro” in Sellwood, shifted recently from takeout service to dine-in and reservation only, making the bar the best place to be. It’s where you can sit with a cup of sake in hand, and become entranced watching co-owner Shinji Uehara slice fish flown in from Tokyo, gently hand-mold the rice, then apply a slick shoyu and a dab of freshly grated wasabi for a nigiri before presenting it to you.
Kaede, which means maple tree in Japanese, is unassuming, but manages to hit all the bases. Shinji opened Kaede with his wife, Izumi, and together they have already managed to impeccably source and respectfully prepare sushi and small plates without making the place too stuffy or out of financial reach. There are two arguably better sushi restaurants in town—Nodoguro and Nimblefish—but Nodoguro is wildly expensive and Nimblefish, I think, is stingy with its nigiri sizes.
The Ueharas are both from Japan, but met in San Francisco while working at Sanraku, and moved to Portland in 2021. For now, Izumi serves as host and server, pouring glasses of Okinawan Orion beer and shuttling dishes, like scallops ($9)—skewered, coated with crunchy panko, and fried to succulent perfection, with a zingy wasabi mayo dip.
To really have a great time, you’ll want to plan on spending around $200 for two, but that will allow you to cover plenty of ground. The first step of the game plan is to snag a reservation a month in advance (the furthest out they take them), preferably at the bar.
Order those scallops, add on some slow-cooked duck breast soba noodles, and grab a small bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts ($7), which remain on just the right side of crunchy while absorbing the salty, citrusy ponzu sauce. Select a carafe of sake from their list; I fell for the Watari Bune ($22 for 200 milliliters, $75 per bottle), a refreshing dry heirloom junmai ginjo, but all were excellent.
Kaede doesn’t do an omakase meal, but order a nigiri premium ($56) for each diner, ensuring everyone gets to sample the eight special nigiri, made primarily of fish flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market. A raw, fresh slice of iwashi, or sardine, was more buttery than salty, sliced straight down the middle for a brushing of shoyu.
What makes eating at Kaede such a treat is that so much of what’s flown in are rarities in our neck of the woods, like a gorgeous kinmedai, a bright pink Japanese alfonsino fish that arrives shimmering on the plate. Shinji tops it with a dollop of ponzu jelly and spicy daikon radish. On the saltwater eel nigiri, Shinji deploys a blow torch, gently bubbling the silver fatty skin before setting it down for you to eat.
There are rolls as well, including a saba battera ($18 whole, $9 for half), where rice is rolled around in fresh chives and salty mackerel is pressed around the outside before it’s blanketed in a paper-thin slice of kombu. There’s also the impressive futomaki ($14), which literally translates to “fat roll.” Here, sweet tamago, shiitake mushroom, kanpyo squash, cucumber, eel and shrimp are all rolled together for a balanced, if enormous, bite.
Nearly everything we tried over the course of two visits was without reproach, with the rare exception being a bluefin tuna roll flavored with white truffle oil ($18), which just isn’t my personal jam. I also felt for Izumi, who had to turn away several people who wanted to walk in without a reservation. I will also use this space to shame a boomer couple who arrived insisting they had a reservation when, in fact, it was a month away. They then had the audacity to demand to be seated, yell about “the app” not working (Kaede does not have an app), and storm out. Sushi for everyone but them.
On our second visit, Izumi and Shinji recognized my dude and I and treated us to a bowl of deep fried sayori (halfbeak) spines for his birthday. The delicate bones crunched pleasantly and have replaced peanuts as our new favorite beer snack. I truly cannot think of a better bar to go full Sam and Diane.
EAT: Kaede, 8268 SE 13th Ave., 503-327-8916, kaedepdx.com. 4:30-9 pm Wednesday-Sunday. Online reservations only.