Amid the Portland hype cycle, newly expanded Zilla Sake is weird as all hell. Rather than make a huge splash and then coast on rep, this sushi spot slowly and surely picked up serious steam. Now, it's a tiny juggernaut punching well above its weight.
The once-cramped spot renovated this spring to include a full bar space, and celebrated by carving up an entire maguro tuna with Japanese knife shop Seisuke Knife. They've built their bottle collection to a near-insane 90 sakes by the glass, more options than almost anywhere in the U.S, including alcohol-added honjozos, old-school-funky yamahais and an a nine-deep selection of unpasteurized namazakes including a dry, intense and wild Chiyomusubi made with pungent heirloom rice.
The sushi sourcing has also gone nuts—owners Kate Koo and Departure alum Sam Saltos have been gathering contacts in Hokkaido and Hawaii and Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market to net cold-grown scallops of terrifying tenderness and aromatic refinement, and blooming sea urchin that shames the uni elsewhere. One night, Koo might be breaking down a rarely seen Oregon geoduck, or Saltos will pull out an even-more-rare piece of abalone. The specialty maki, even, are extraordinary: The Tsunami rolls up herbal kaiware radish sprouts and green onion with rich Dungeness crab and yellowtail, brightening the composition with a tangy, citric ponzu.
Rum Club's Matt Kesteloot has spruced up the cocktail menu, including a summery gin-cognac Strawberry Magic made with fresh berry pulp. And Koo is encyclopedic in her sake knowledge, telling stories of the strange bureaucratic tax quirk that let a brewer make sake using government samples of Watari Bune, an ancient and prized heirloom rice strain that had long been extinct.
It's one of the world's rarest sakes, which you probably couldn't even find in Tokyo, but that junmai daiginjo is here for $28 for 4 ounces and tastes like the purest essence of rice grain.
Pro tip: Fatten yourself up with a thick $15 Tsunami or Zilla roll that are both marvels of balance. Then simply make sure you're at the sushi bar and ask questions, as Saltos and Koo are both very forthright about the cuts they're most excited about. So get those, then let them also guide you to a 100-milliliter sake selection. Chef's menus are available for a reasonably economic $35 or $50 a person.