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For sushi and setting like this, Pearl price is worth it

Taste
by: DENISE FARWELL, Hiroshi owner Hiro Ikegaya was after a different feel and a different crowd when he closed his longtime Lake Oswego restaurant and opened a place in the Pearl District.

When Hiro Ikegaya opened Hiro Sushi in a Lake Oswego minimall in 1989, there were few Japanese restaurants in the Portland area. Eighteen years later, there are more than 150. Now nearly every neighborhood has a spot in which to pop edamame pods.

The cream of the crop (the bluefin tuna of the school, if you will) is Ikegaya's new sushi restaurant in the Pearl, Hiroshi (926 N.W. 10th Ave., 503-619-0580).

Ikegaya sold his casual Lake Oswego restaurant last year because, he says, he wanted to create something fancier and reach a different clientele. 'The customers in Lake Oswego are very nice but mostly families. Here (in the Pearl) we get more 20s and 30s.'

Yes, but can they afford it? Hiroshi is not cheap. Two can easily spend more than $100 for dinner, about half that for lunch.

The look is luxurious. When you walk in the door, the first thing you'll notice is a school of tiny, silver metal fish adorning the wall behind the sushi bar. Ikegaya's daughter, a graphic designer in New York, designed the dramatic piece.

The restaurant's colors are dark brown and rich cream. A small vase of fresh flowers sits on each table.

Another nice touch: You'll be given a warm wet towel with which to wash your hands before you start your meal. Almost every restaurant in Japan offers them. I wish the trend would start here. After I spent a week in Tokyo, it seemed almost disgusting to start dinner without the towel service once I returned to Portland.

I appreciate Hiroshi's sumptuous details, but the restaurant also can be downright extravagant. The fact is, leases are expensive in the Pearl, and the higher rents are reflected in the bill.

For example, at Hiroshi you'll pay $9 for a large bottle of Japanese beer. At conveyor-belt sushi star Sushiville (1514 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-226-4710) the same bottle of beer costs only $5.50. Even similarly upscale Sin Ju Restaurant (1022 N.W. Johnson St., 503-223-6535) just up the street in the Pearl charges $1 less for a bottle of beer.

But the food at Hiroshi is exceptionally good. Even my picky husband, who has spent a lot of time in Japan, was impressed.

At most sushi restaurants, I prefer to order nigiri, simply a plain piece of fish laid across an oblong mound of rice. I'm usually disappointed in the more complicated rolls, which are often heavy-handed concoctions with too many competing flavors. But I decided I should try some of Ikegaya's rolls, and I'm hooked.

The spicy Dynamite roll lives up to its name with an explosion of chopped yellowtail tuna and cucumber with chili garlic sauce.

The Oregon special roll demonstrates Ikegaya's expertise when marrying ingredients; salmon and scallions are tossed with a creamy masago sauce and topped with shrimp.

Hiro's special roll is crab, avocado, scallions and Japanese chili pepper covered with three different kinds of tuna. With all of his rolls, the flavors complement rather than compete.

It's not surprising that it takes a little while to assemble these beautiful delicacies. When the restaurant is busy, expect a bit of a wait for sushi.

While you wait, you can nibble from a stellar selection of appetizers, which arrive from the kitchen surprisingly quickly. Don't miss the seared tuna with chili miso sauce or the sea eel fritters with a creamy madai fish sauce.

If you appreciate good Japanese food and enjoy eating it in sophisticated surroundings, the tab at Hiroshi is worth it.

Hiroshi is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and for dinner 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

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Giving never tasted so good. Congratulations, ChristieCare! The mental health organization's third annual Chocolate Ball (held Feb. 10 at Montgomery Park) raised more than $550,000 to support its various and extensive mental health services to children and families in the Portland area.

Another fun opportunity to support Portland-area charities presents itself from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, at the Portland Art Museum. Taste Walla Walla is the opening event of the Classic Wines Auction Week. Tickets to Taste Walla Walla cost $65 and include tastes of wines from more than 40 Walla Walla wineries and a private viewing of current Portland Art Museum exhibit The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. Tickets can be purchased at www.wallawallawine.com or through the art museum's box office, 503-226-0973.

Classic Wines Auction Inc. is a nonprofit organization that runs the annual Classic Wines Auction and related wine events, which support local charities benefiting children and families. This year's auction will be held March 3. Visit www.classicwinesauction.com for information.

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