Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Japanese Jumble

I have to start by saying that Yakuza seems very promising. The physical setting is unlike any other in Portland, with its sweep of long, low-slung tables and intimate lighting. And the sheltered courtyard with its garden out back looks like a terrific place to sit on a warm summer evening, sipping drinks and ordering little plates of nibbles.

Along with a few other members of Portland's food press, I was invited to sample their fall menu on the house, which usually means that all the stops are pulled out, air kisses float through the room like moths and fawning is the order of the day. The latter activities I find particularly repellent, but since bloggers don't have any power to make or break restaurants, we're pretty much left to talk with people we know and generally have a decent time.

Yakuza's sushi chef, the brother of owner and chef Micah Camden, came down with the flu the day of the dinner so we didn't sample the sushi, but I have to say that the food, while sometimes stunning, seemed a bit of a jumble of half-ideas and odd combinations. The shredded filo-wrapped sea scallops (photo, top) were outstanding and, with the cucumber and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds and togorashi, the best dishes I tasted.

The red and gold beet carpaccio (left, above) was gorgeous and, while chevre and candied walnuts are standard accompaniments in a beet salad, the avocado, while adding nice color, took away from the sweetness of the beets and its creamy texture felt strange. The grilled duck with raisins and yakitori sauce was underdone and chewy, the burnt caramel sauce with the panko-fried banana (right, above) was more burnt than caramel, and the panko-fried goat cheese with caramelized onions and honey, while tasty, didn't resemble anything even vaguely Asian.

So I'm kind of at a loss when it comes to recommending the place. Mr. Camden obviously has talent and high ambitions (he also owns Beast and DOC nearby), but I left a little confused about what he's trying to do here. I'd be curious to hear what your experiences have been, so let me know!

Details: Yakuza Lounge, 5411 NE 30th Ave. 503-450-0893.

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