Don't go to Nodoguro for the sushi.
That's not because the nigiri aren't terrific at chef Ryan Roadhouse's Southeast Belmont Street church of Japanese prix-fixe, whose hardcore and superhardcore sushi nights sell out each month within hours of going online. Because, dear god, the sushi is tremendous: At Nodoguro's large-circumferenced, 13-seat horseshoe bar, Roadhouse presides with Buddhist calm over each plate, dressing each ethereal cut of fish from Hawaii or the Tsukiji fish market with bespoke care approaching obsessiveness.
Expertly butterflied scallop is butter-tender, while salt-cured sardine greets the tongue with surprising sweetness before settling into an earthy funk almost painful in its richness. The uni is so gentle it might as well be foie gras.
But no matter how good the sushi, Nodoguro isn't about sushi. And even on those Wednesday and Thursday sushi nights, the sushi is not what will linger longest in memory.
If you're looking for nigiri, chef Cody Auger's blazingly excellent Fukami pop-up—in transition to a new Nimblefish space on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard as this guide prints—can equal Nodoguro.
But nowhere in the city, or maybe even the country, can approach what Roadhouse achieves with his otherworldly sousaku ("creative") plates. Served on Nodoguro's themed dinners from Friday to Sunday, innovative composed plates also amount to about half the 20 courses on a hardcore sushi night.
A smoked, miso-glazed eggplant was a miracle of texture, a wafer-thin shell of caramelized char that cracked like brûlée into deep-brined soft fruit beneath, attained over a days-long preparation that required the eggplant to be dehydrated, rehydrated and shocked with a bath of hot miso. A tomato and ground-cherry salad comes doused in egg yolk that's been set into gel with fish-stock dashi, then high-speed sheared into rich and luxuriantly silken dressing. A prawn-and-geoduck dish in sake-miso sauce is a piece of lovely modernist whimsy, adorned with crossed, crisped shrimp antennae that eat like alien snack food; the dish somehow manages to combine the heavenly subtlety and aromatics of sushi with the deep, buttery comforts of a mid-Atlantic seafood house. Plate after plate at Nodoguro, it feels like you're discovering new kinds of transcendence.
Nogoduro, 2832 SE Belmont St., nodoguropdx.com. Reservations only, Wednesday-Sunday. $$$$.
Each dish arrives with a soft-worded introduction as it's delivered to each dining group along the bar, in a lengthy and perpetual round-robin. This has the side effect of keeping the pacing of the meal very slow. In its hushed tones and reverent patience, the meal takes on the character of an arcane religious ceremony. But whatever your religion, you will worship here.
Pro tip: The $35 drink pairings can be paced awkwardly; on sushi nights they end just as the sushi starts, leaving you ordering more booze. At the sushi dinner at least, you might be best off just ordering a bottle from their well-curated selection to share.