[FINE FISH TALE] Lance Dillard has stepped beautifully into the shoes of the estimable former executive chef Kaoru Ishii at this bright, unpretentious sushi bar over the past year. That means its best to cede control with the omakase menus: $35 for three-courses, $50 for five-courses, or market price for sushi-only. Of course, the chefs behind the bar know better than anyone what's outstanding that day, but they'll also push diners past their old standbys. As delicious as a salmon, avocado and lemon-laden sunshine roll is ($12), the briny-sweet aoyagi (surf clam) ($4) is much more of a discovery when seasoned and dressed with yuzu zest and a dab of chili oil, as is the restaurant's occasional tasting-menu inclusion of its excellent saba misoni—mackerel marinated for hours in hatcho miso dressing. Hokusei offers a treat that's becoming sadly rare in American sushi restaurants: the sweet-salty treat of a tamago (egg) nigiri that's made on premises rather than bought from a pre-fab frozen block. The only real danger at Hokusei is that you'll find something truly spectacular and order it to the exclusion of every other thing on the menu. Especially if you visit when the bincho (Oregon albacore tuna belly) is in season ($3.50), the meltingly tender fish flesh painted gently with soy and dotted with wasabi and chilies. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.
Along with Japanese whiskey flights and a selection of fruit sakes, Hokusei has great beers on tap. Breakside's Yuzu White ale, made specially for the restaurant, goes especially well with the bincho.