Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inside Scoop

I've always fantasized about being on the inside, one of the few to know about a particular place where no sign marks its existence, a knock on the door gains entrance and a glance over your shoulder is required to ensure no one sees you disappear inside.

Would you know a great Japanese restaurant lurks here?

Last night I finally got my chance to go such a place when friends Jeff and Kathryn took us to Yuzu, a Japanese izakaya, or pub, in, of all places, deep Beaverton. Ironically located across the street from a Fred Meyer and sandwiched in an anonymous strip mall between a brightly lit Asian video store and a Korean restaurant, the small neon OPEN sign above the door is the only indication of a business there.

The cooks at Yuzu…they never stop moving!

But once inside, you might as well have stepped through a wormhole and ended up in one of Tokyo's bustling restaurant districts. People speaking Japanese and flames leaping up from the grills in the tiny open kitchen, with the cooks rushing from bubbling pots of hot oil, back to the grill and then out to the tables, give this place, which seats maybe 25 in a pinch, the air of a street stall rather than a sit-down restaurant.

Mmmm…pork belly.

And the food…oh my god…the food is astonishing, especially paired with the wide selection of wine, sake, shochu and beer. (Sapporo on tap? Never seen that before!) The whole menu is small plates, meant for sharing while patrons slurp the libation of their choice for hours on end. Temperature and texture are all-important, and the dishes run from chilled to room temp to hot, depending on what is ordered, a requirement that Yuzu takes very seriously.

Chilled tofu with shredded fish and green onions.

We were seated and immediately got our drinks and a little plate of warm, salty edamame. And almost as quickly our food started appearing, beginning with a tiny bowl of strips of fermented squid that reminded me of the taste of salty sea urchin. It was followed by chunks of pork belly that were so rich they literally melted in our mouths, causing much oohing and ahhing and moaning, along with wishes that several more plates of it be brought to the table.

Kabocha squash in broth.

Before we could make that request to our waitress, though, the cooks started bringing more little treasures out from the kitchen, including silken tofu topped with shredded dried fish and green onion in a bowl of ice, dried squid rings sautéed and served with braised tofu and daikon, and a shredded pork salad with a to-die-for miso dressing.

Sliced duck breast.

But since too much is never enough when the food is this crazy, we charged ahead and ordered, in no particular order, baked kabocha squash, marinated braised pig stomach (the menu said intestine, but at this point we weren't picky), delicate strips of meat mixed with a stew of soft tofu and vegetables, followed by thin planks of grilled beef tongue and a small grilled fish that was so fresh it was if it had come out of the sea moments before.

Deep fried lotus root with shrimp paste.

We'd almost had enough when our waitress recommended trying the duck, as well as shrimp paste sandwiched between slices of deep-fried lotus root. Not wanting to be impolite, we just nodded dazedly. The duck, succulent slices of roast breast with a layer of fat, had a wild, lightly gamy flavor and was cooked to a rosy perfection, and the lotus root finished off the evening (and our appetites) with its crunchy, herby tenderness.

If you're not planning a trip there very soon, I haven't done a good job describing the place. But then again, if you don't go, to put it in my family's parlance, that leaves more for me…

Details: Yuzu, 4130 SW 117th Ave., Beaverton. Phone 503-350-1801.


dds said...

Looks fantastic! Moments ago I wasn't hungry, but now I'm getting up to put dinner on.

Thanks for the vicarious living...and the spot for a future lunch date! (Though the thought of Beaverton is a litle daunting to my eastside navigational abilities.)

Kathleen Bauer said...

We definitely need to go…though I think they're only open for dinner, alas.