The right name for a restaurant is important Ñ filling diners' heads with expectations before they even know what kind of cuisine is being served.
Japanese restaurants seem to have the name game down. Sushiville is a perfect moniker for an eatery that is brightly lit with food served via conveyor belt. Sinju, Portland's most elegant sushi spot, lives up to the simple power of its commanding name.
Sushi Cafe K, Northeast Broadway's newest Asian addition, also is aptly named. It does, of course, serve sushi, and 'cafe' is not merely flowery prose: This is a bistro, in the French or Italian model. The K in the name remains something of a mystery, but it makes for a great logo on the big green awning that shades the building.
Flush against a busy Jiffy Lube, this was once the home of Paparazzi, a modest Italian restaurant that attracted more seniors than scenesters. When Princess Diana was killed in a car accident while attempting to flee a swarm of photographers, the name association caused a sudden decline in business for the restaurant, which later closed.
Sushi Cafe K has managed to exorcise any leftover demons with a lovely remodeling job. Unlike the nail salon atmosphere endemic to sushi restaurants, Sushi Cafe K is quietly elegant. Handsome wooden tables sit on a black-and-white checked floor clean enough to eat sashimi from. Plum- and mustard-colored walls are adorned with framed Japanese characters and simple, antique mirrors. Not a raw fish poster or paper lantern in sight.
Most important, the food is excellent, especially the fresh sushi. Cafe K is not out to overwhelm. You will not have to figure out how to bite a section of a roll in half tastefully or, worse, choke down a whole piece missing all the flavors. Most rolls are manageably bite-sized, with warm rice that's easy to digest.
One of the best is the Tokyo, with tuna, albacore and yellowtail minus any vegetables or condiments to distract from the buttery flavors of the fish. The yellowtail with green onion, called Negihama, also benefits from combining two complementary flavors without any distractions. There are a few over-the-top rolls such as the Broadway Ñ prawn, crab, avocado, 'creamy' cheese and mayonnaise (eek!) Ñ but there's nothing truly offensive.
There's also an extensive cooked menu. Teriyaki chicken and salmon entrees are served with rich miso soup, a bowl of steamed edamame and three delicious shrimp dumplings. These dumplings, deep-fried but still incredibly light and creamy, are garnished with real wasabi, which is yellow, not mint green. To cleanse the palate between courses, celery and carrot slivers are served in a glass bowl.
The most exotic dishes are on the appetizer menu. Ankimo, monkfish liver served with radish and citrus soy sauce, is a little intimidating. But Kauisu Ñ a light salad of tender crab, octopus and shrimp Ñ or the burdock root cooked in soy sauce and sugar are pleasing light starters. Fortunately, prices at Sushi CafŽ K encourage sampling.
Japanese restaurants often have either good sushi or good entrees Ñ but rarely both. The deft ability to combine the two Ñ with the sushi only slightly edging out the noodles, teriyaki, soups and curry Ñ makes Sushi CafŽ K seem much older than 5 months.
If you need another excuse to go to Sushi Cafe K immediately, do it for your car. A Saturday afternoon lunch takes approximately the same time as a full oil change at the Jiffy Lube next door.