Ju:no Japanese Sushi Garden
Location: 133 S.W. Century Drive, Suite 204 (Century Village Shopping Center), Bend
Hours: 5:30 to 9 p.m. every day
Price range: Appetizers $1.95 to $5.45, sushi rolls $5.45 to $12.25, other dishes $7.75 to $8.45
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Kids’ menu: On request
Vegetarian menu: Numerous choices include tempura vegetables
Alcoholic beverages: Beer and sake
Outdoor seating: No
Contact: 808-226-7369, www.facebook.com
Food: A-. Fresh and authentic sushi, great tempura and a variety of other Japanese dishes.
Service: B+. Understaffed — the owner cooks and waits tables — but always eager to please.
Atmosphere: B. Neat, clean and minimalist, with a goal of becoming a gathering place.
Value: A. Ju:no offers the best deal in Central Oregon for sushi lovers.
From 1984 to 1996, one of the most popular television shows in Japan was a series called “Oregon Kara Ai,” or “From Oregon With Love.” It followed the life of a 9-year-old boy, Akira, who was sent to live with relatives in Central Oregon after his parents were killed in an auto accident. The series watched him slowly adjust to the differences between Japanese and American cultures as he grew to adulthood.
While the plot was intriguing to Japanese of a similar age, the stunning cinematography had an even greater impact. The scenery of the Cascade peaks, the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, the sage and juniper of the High Desert, helped define Oregon to the citizens of the Asian island nation.
Among the young Japanese who were deeply affected by the program was Michi Nakanishi, then a schoolgirl in the cultural capital of Kyoto. When she turned 17 and it came time for her to choose a college to continue her education, she enrolled at Central Oregon Community College.
“I wanted to be in a place with trees and nature,” she said, recalling images of “houses very far between” — unlike the tightly packed neighborhoods of her native Japan. So in 1997, at the age of 17, she arrived in Bend.
Nakanishi didn’t stay in school, but she remained in Bend. Youthful culinary experience translated to jobs making sushi at several local restaurants: the now-defunct Yoko’s, Kanpai and 5 Fusion. “I tried to move someplace else, but it never worked,” she said. The snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor was one thing that kept her here.
‘True Japanese food’
In mid-July, Nakanishi became her own boss, establishing the Ju:no Japanese Sushi Garden in the Century Village Shopping Center on Bend’s west side. Assisted for a time by her mother, who was visiting from Japan, the young chef quickly built a reputation for freshness and authenticity in her sushi rolls and other Japanese plates.
“I feel like I have a little more idea about what’s true Japanese food than other local sushi restaurants,” Nakanishi said.
“But what I really want to create is a place where people can go and hang out, like a Japanese ‘izakaya,’ where you can go to drink and have a little food with it.”
To that end, she named her 20-seat cafe “Ju:no,” pronouncing the “j” as a “y.”
“Yuno is a Japanese girl’s name,” she said, “and the ‘yu’ character means ‘to connect people.’ In a dictionary, it may be written with a colon between ‘ju’ and ‘no’.” Thus, Ju:no is a place where people can connect.
On my visits, I connected with outstanding sushi as well as other Japanese dishes, including tempura-battered vegetables and soba noodles in a light broth. Each plate was carefully prepared specifically for me and my dining companion — a fact of which we were assured, as Nakanishi was alone in the kitchen, where all food is prepared.
“I feel like we have come over to a Japanese friend’s house for dinner,” said my delighted friend.
At our first Ju:no dinner, we focused on the sushi, although we began with a serving of soy edamame, fresh and salty, and with two bowls of miso soup, thin but flavorful.
Each of the three custom rolls featured cucumber and avocado, and each was delicious: The sushi rice had just the right amount of vinegar.
The Oishi roll ($9.25) blended fresh salmon and hamachi tuna in a roll with cilantro and spicy jalapeno peppers, topped with orange tobiko (flying fish roe). The Yukata roll ($8.45) featured yellowtail tuna with fresh ginger, scallions and tempura green beans. The Sunset roll ($7.95) highlighted fresh crab and barbecued freshwater eel (unagi).
We also had two paired nigiri sushi dishes — one of them with fresh maguro (ahi) tuna, the other with scallops, finished with light mayonnaise and tobiko.
To finish our meal, Nakanishi brought a saucer of black sesame pudding that was as light as a creme brulee. And the best part of this meal was the price: Including a small carafe of quality sake, the entire bill for two came to $46.
Tempura to soba
Ju:no is a neat and clean little cafe, well-lit but minimalist in ambiance, with a hardwood floor and bar top. When it reopened in early December after a month’s closure (as Nakanishi visited family in Asia), the decor was slightly upgraded, with simple new tapestries and art complementing several shelves of books — travel books, mostly, as well as volumes in Japanese or about Japan. Alternative rock music, including tunes by Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson, played in the background.
On this visit, we decided we wanted less sushi on our evening menu. That gave us an opportunity to try numerous other items offered at Ju:no.
The key to good tempura is in the batter, which should be very light and fully drained of oil. Nakanishi made it perfectly. Broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms and sweet potatoes were served with a dipping sauce as light and savory as the batter.
Gyoza, also known as pot stickers, were tiny fried dumplings in a crispy batter, stuffed with minced chicken, cabbage and carrots. Oysters, breaded with panko crumbs, skewered and deep-fried in traditional kushiage style, were served with slices of lime and daikon radish. Both were a little oily but delicious nonetheless.
The soba, or buckwheat noodles, were served as a soup in a light fish broth, with tempura shrimp and veggies. Scallions, tofu and wakame, an edible seaweed, were added.
Nakanishi said she plans to change and expand the menu as time passes, possibly expanding her weekday-dinner-only schedule to include lunches and more noodle dishes. Already, she has a variety of foods available that are not on the menu — one-meal bowls known as nabemono, for instance — but she offers no red meats.
— Reporter: email@example.com