Review: Where to find Bend’s best sushi

Kanpai and 5 Fusion lead a competitive group

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

NEXT WEEK: GREG’S GRILL

It wasn’t many years ago that sushi in Central Oregon was a rarity, available at only two or three restaurants.

Times have changed. Today, there are eight restaurants in Bend and another in Redmond where Japanese raw-fish delicacies are served to a clientele that clearly has taken to the exotic flavors.

Freshness of fish, sushi-quality rice, portion sizes, selection, presentation, service, price and general ambiance were all considerations in comparing these restaurants. (I scored these categories a maximum of 3 points each in my ranking system.)

In order to assure consistency, my companion and I ordered yellowtail tuna (hamachi), freshwater eel (unagi) and a Rainbow roll (a sushi bar standard) at each restaurant. Where available, we also had a gomo or hijiki seaweed salad, along with an optional choice of an additional roll more or less unique to the establishment.

The Rainbow roll ranged in price from $15 (at Kanpai and 5 Fusion) to $11.95 (at Oishi and Okawa). For the uninitiated, it features avocado, cucumber and crab rolled with rice in seaweed, topped with an assortment of sliced fish, typically including salmon, yellowtail and ahi tuna, cooked shrimp and a white fish such as escolar. But the fish can vary, and a few sushi establishments prefer to use artificial crab (“Krab”) instead of fresh crustacean. Whatever points they gained in pricing, they lost in quality of ingredients.

Clear winners

More than any other restaurant in the region, Kanpai feels as though it could be in Japan. The dark-wood interior is reminiscent of a modern izakaya, a drinking-and-dining establishment such as may be found in Tokyo or Osaka. Skilled sushi chefs, headed by owner Justin Cook, present the freshest possible fish directly over the bar top, including unique rolls such as the delightful Orgasm (tempura-battered eel, crab and cucumber topped with avocado, creamy scallops, flying-fish roe or tobiko, and a sweet soy reduction) and heated, appetizer-size plates like the Dynamite (seafood broiled in a shell with vegetables and sauces).

Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar (22.5): 990 NW Newport Ave., Bend; kanpai-bend.com, 541-388-4636. Open 4 to 9 p.m. every day.

At 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar, sushi is sometimes overlooked for more gourmet offerings from award-winning chef-owner Joe Kim. But I never go wrong seated at the counter in the rear of the restaurant, where three chefs demonstrate that good food can be prepared quickly and with panache. The delicate gomo seaweed salad is one of the best around. A plate of maguro tuna sashimi with a sprinkling of truffle oil started us off with smiles, while the Dragon roll (tempura shrimp and avocado, topped with eel and unagi sauce) was superb.

5 Fusion & Sushi Bar (22.0): 821 NW Wall St., Bend; 5fusion.com, 541-323-2328. Open 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Runners-up

At Chi, owners Howie and Ada Long know that a good dinner experience begins with service. Immediately and graciously seated at the sushi bar, we were presented sanitary hand wipes to start — the only place in Central Oregon that I know does this. Our gomo seaweed salad came with chopped bits of octopus on top. The rice was good, the crab was “real,” and the tuna was fresh, though not as thickly cut as I like. We especially liked a U of O roll ($14), which had tempura shrimp, spicy tuna poke, cucumber and avocado inside; it was topped with Hamachi and avocado, finished with unagi sauce, tobiko and sesame seeds.

Chi Chinese & Sushi Bar (21.0): 70 NW Newport Ave., Bend; bendchi.com, 541-323-3931. Open 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Redmond’s lone entry has only become better in the 2½ years since it opened. Oishi (Japanese for “delicious”) is actually operated by Thai owners, but they understand Japanese cuisine, from sushi to full-on entrees. Our seaweed salad, rainbow roll and Hamachi sashimi were fairly standard, but what really sold us on Oishi was “The Tower” ($14.95). Resembling a savory cupcake, this stack of spicy tuna, crab meat and scallops stood atop sushi rice, topped with avocado and a warm mayo and unagi sauce.

Oishi Japanese Restaurant (20.5): 511 SW Sixth St., Redmond; facebook.com/oishi.redmond, 541-548-3035. Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; dinner 4 to p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Okawa may be better known as a teppanyaki-style restaurant, but its sushi bar stands with the best in Bend. The fish is fresh and thickly sliced; the rolls are good, even if the rice is a little subpar; and the One Night Stand roll ($13.50) won us over with a blend of spicy tuna, asparagus and avocado, topped with seared salmon and served with a basil sauce. If there’s a deficiency, it’s that the team of chefs behind the bar don’t converse with patrons, and they must wait for servers to take and deliver orders — which often leads to a lag in service.

Okawa Steak House and Sushi (20.0): 1180 SE Third St., Bend; 541-383-8104. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 12:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

In the race

Tomo has earned a strong following with its half-price sushi nights every Monday. Its daily happy hours are also a bargain. The ambiance, with tatami room and a wall adorned with bamboo, is one of the most appealing of local sushi bars. But the food was merely average, other than the Sugar Daddy ($13), made with tempura shrimp, asparagus and spicy tuna, topped with avocado and shrimp, unagi sauce and tobiko. Still, for prices several dollars less much of its competition, it’s a restaurant to keep on your radar.

Tomo Sushi (19.5): 61160 S. Highway 97, Suite C, Bend; bendsushi.com, 541-323-8888. Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Michi Nakanishi’s intimate Juno Japanese Sushi Garden on Bend’s west side is a tiny, seven-table cafe with homey decor that reflects the owner’s homeland and her passion for snowboarding. She excels at making sushi rice, an essential ingredient in this cuisine. Prices are reasonable, but portions are small and selections limited, by comparison to other sushi bars. Our favorite was an Akita roll (only $9.25), a version of a Spider roll with soft-shell crab, shrimp, avocado, cucumber, wasabi tobiko and unagi sauce.

Juno Japanese Sushi Garden (19.0): 133 SW Century Drive, Suite 204, Bend; facebook.com/junojapanesesushigarden, 808-226-7369. Open 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Mio is the Old Mill’s entry in the sushi sweepstakes, and it’s worth considering, especially during afternoon happy hour. The gomo seaweed salad, topped with crab, shrimp and octopus, would be a bigger winner if it wasn’t served atop lots of thickly sliced cucumbers. But the rice doesn’t hold together properly in rolls, and there’s no sense of intimacy to this bright corner space. A highlight was the Bloody Vampire roll, a tempura-fried treat with shrimp.

Mio Sushi (18.5): 375 SW Powerhouse Drive, Suite A-125, Bend; miosushi.com/mio-bend, 541-241-1008. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Falling back

Of all my sushi stops, Shinsei (in the Cascade Village Shopping Center) was the biggest disappointment. Even though the fish was fresh and the rice decent, poor service overwhelmed all the positives. We asked to sit at the sushi bar, where several singles were seated with empty chairs between them, but the host refused to ask anyone to make room. At our table, we had to wait a full hour for a single sushi order to arrive. Our Rainbow roll ($13.95) was satisfactory, with real crab complementing the various fish, and an unagi sauce finish. Our gomo salad, however, was served on a bed of too many cucumber halves.

Shinsei Sushi (15): 63455 N. Highway 97, Suite 35, Bend; shinseibend.com, 541-306-3486. Open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

—John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com .

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