At Yama, the trick is to ignore almost everything.
If you're looking for sushi, your first step is to pass over Yama's second location on Southeast Division Street. Once at the labyrinthine Pearl spot, ignore the noodles and the teriyaki, as well as that layer-caked tower of tuna ($14.95). Be untempted by the silly-ass Flaming Jack roll ($14.95) that comes on foil, surrounded by a literal ring of flame.
In fact, if there's a seat open, don't even go past the warm-wooded sushi counter by the the front door, where chef Heemoon Chae—known to every regular simply as "Chef Scott"—serves some of the finest-sourced, best-treated fish in all of Portland. Now, ignore the printed menu. If you don't want to spring for the omakase chef's choice meal ($60-$100)—offering a parade of delicate premium salmon or uni or bass that may bear little resemblance to the fish you order from the standard sushi checklist—look instead to the handwritten specials menu.
There, you may find tender whole perch—or whatever was available that day—grill-charred to perfection over tender flesh. When you believe you've eaten all of it, the server will swoop it away only to bring back a skeleton so beautifully carbonized you can eat it, too.
Perhaps on that same menu, you'll see a selection of five different salmon sashimis, each its own version of ungodly deliciousness, alongside a special catch of fatty tuna and an albacore tataki served with a light dusting of shiso leaf. It is as if the chef has laid bare his omakase—everything extraordinary and rare—and allowed you to choose your favorites. Augment with a 10-piece assorted nigiri ($28.95), which will arrive as a mix of exquisite familiars like wild salmon and hamachi alongside exotica like geoduck, a tender fillet of raw octopus and types of mackerel you never knew existed.
Eat: Omakase, chef's choice sushi assortments, and specials menu.
Drink: There is an excellent selection of sake here, including a beautifully distinctive unpasteurized minato namazake for $10 a glass.
Most popular dish: You don't want the most popular dishes ordered by Pearl District walk-ins. Or if you do, go somewhere cheaper.
Noise level: 65/100
Expected wait: Step inside. Welcome.
Who you'll eat with: At or near the sushi counter, Japanese expats and know-it-all regulars getting overfamiliar with the sushi chef. In the restaurant, the farther back you go, you'll sit with basic Betsys and dudes with spiky hair.
Year opened: 2011
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