Our Rating  

230 Commercial Street

Four 1/4 plates  
Sapporo Reviewed: Winter, 2004

Sushi has become a fashion statement in the last few years. If you want to be truly hip, you carry a cell phone and you go out for sushi. Although most people do enjoy the artistic delicacy, I've sadly seen many people claim to love sushi with a passion only to choke it down with gulps full of saki and a false grin on their face when actually confronted. I have never been one to claim a strong affinity for Japanese cuisine. In fact, I'm usually the first to mumble and grumble when everyone else wants to go out for sushi. But the more I try different dishes, the more I've come to enjoy the unique flavors in the cuisine. Which is a good thing because now more than ever it's the dinner of choice when friends get together.

We had an opportunity to go out with a couple of friends the other night and of course the popular vote went to sushi. Having been before, a couple of people suggested Sapporo. This small water's edge restaurant on Commercial Street in the Old Port boldly claims to have "The Best Sushi in Town" on the front of their menu. I don't know if it was the fact that I was starving when we went there, or that it was my fifth or sixth attempt with Japanese cuisine, it being considered an "acquired taste" by many, or simply Sapporo's superb food, but for the first time I can confidently say that I enjoyed my meal immensely, everything from the miso soup to the pickled radishes.

From the outside, Sapporo looks like an unappealing, rather run-down establishment with its weathered wood siding and plastic sheeting covering the entrance but on the inside, soft lighting, bamboo and cloth screens, traditional Japanese décor provide for a cozy welcome atmosphere. You can opt for one of the many tables for a full sit down meal or pull up a stool at the sushi bar, order piece by piece and watch the sushi chefs carefully prepare each selection as you eat. In the small entranceway the special for the day is displayed, under plastic wrap, enveloped in an array of decorative flowery greens. This evening's entrée special was a curry served with plenty of rice, a choice of meat, and an abundance of enticing looking orange curry sauce. We chose to take a table for four and our waitress provided us with menus, chopsticks (you have to specially request silverware), glasses of ice cold water and warm damp cloths rolled neatly upon small bamboo boats to cleanse our hands.

I quickly turned to the beverage page of the menu and mulled over the beer and wine selection. There were several wines served by the carafe, half-carafe, bottle or glass, and a few beer selections including, of course, Sapporo. But when our waitress returned to take our drink orders, no one was really in the mood for "drink" drinks and we all settled on our water for the evening.

It takes quite a long time to read through a sushi menu. There are so many different choices. You can order by single piece, multiple pieces, rolls, combination platters of multiple varieties and pieces, or party platters of up to 48 pieces ($37.95) to serve your entire table. You have to decide if you want Nigiri Sushi, a single slice of the fresh seafood atop a ball of vinegared rice or if you're in the mood for sushi rolls, seafood and other vegetables encircled by sticky rice, wrapped in Nori seaweed, soft fried tofu, or thin omelet. The best way, I've noticed, to find out what kind of sushi suits you is to randomly try them all. Sometimes you'll hit the jackpot and sometimes you might not be so lucky. But then you know what not to order for the next time. And of course, if you are not in the mood for sushi, Sapporo has many other dishes from Chicken Teriyaki ($8.95) to Vegetable Tempura ($8.50) to Soba Noodles ($7.50).

We all decided to skip the appetizers which included Gyoza ($4.25) or pork dumplings, various tempuras and other small seafood dishes all ranging in price from $3.50 to $6.95, as we knew that all of our meals would come with Miso Soup as a starter anyway. Two diners ordered a House Salad ($2.75) and a Seaweed Salad ($3.75) to accompany their soup as well. Within minutes our soups and salads arrived. In the past, I have never cared much for Miso Soup but this time it was delicious and an excellent start to my dinner. We were each served a small bowl of the salty opaque broth full of fresh green scallion bits and perfect little cubes of white tofu. The House Salad consisted of a mountain of cold crispy iceberg lettuce shreds, a pile of chilled cellophane noodles, onion, carrot and cucumber and was served with a side dish of sesame dressing for use on both salads.

Before we could finish the salads, our entrees arrived, mine from the back kitchen and everyone else's straight from the fresh sushi bar. The presentation was astoundingly beautiful. There is no other cuisine that is prepared with such fine detail and care as sushi. It is always composed of the freshest ingredients and constructed just perfectly, served in some sort of artistic pattern with pristine visual appeal taken into consideration. One of my friends had ordered the #2 Combination ($13.95) which consisted of 18 pieces of California Rolls (crab, avocado and cucumber encircled by rice, nori, and more rice on the outside), Tuna Rolls and the daily special roll which was served on a flat glass platter in two perfect squares of nine rolls each. He had also ordered one yellowtail nigiri ($2.25), a thin slice of the fish carefully placed atop a square of rice and tied together with a small strand of seaweed, which he saved for last. Our other friend ordered a sampling of several Nigiri and other sushi rolls and my vegetarian friend went with the #7 Vegetarian Combination ($10.95) consisting of 2 fried tofu packages filled with sweetened rice, 2 Wakame (shreds of fresh seaweed wrapped in nori), 4 Veggie Rolls (pickled carrots, asparagus, and rice) and 6 Cucumber Rolls (cucumber and rice). All the sushi plates came with piles of sweet pickled ginger slices and the sinus-clearing wasabi, incredibly potent green horseradish paste to dilute in soy sauce for dipping. Although the two in our party that had previously dined here said that the sushi was not quite as good as usual, they both agreed that Sapporo does in fact still deserve its claim to have the best in town. All three of them happily enjoyed their selections.

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections
most credit cards accepted
For my dinner I had opted for the special, Chicken Curry ($8.95). I know what some of you are thinking, curry is an Indian dish, not Japanese. Actually, according to popular legend, the curry dish was brought from India in the late 19th century and adapted into the Japanese cuisine. The Japanese rendition is quite similar to yellow Indian curry but infused with more ginger and served in a slightly different format. In any case, Sapporo's version is quite delicious. Most of my plate was covered in tasty sticky sushi rice topped with slices of tender batter fried chicken breast. The curry sauce just tickled the edge of the chicken and rice but mostly formed a large pool to the side allowing me to dip, soak, or transfer sauce to rice or chicken as I pleased. This was accompanied by a small salad of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato and carrot drizzled with sesame dressing and a pile of crunchy bright magenta pickled radish slices. It was a bit difficult to tackle with chopsticks but I managed to polish off everything just fine.

Although sushi looks like a light food, it is deceivingly filling, rarely leaving room for dessert. I too was completely satiated from my curry although I really wanted to try the Tempura ice cream ($4.50), a choice of deep fried green tea or ginger ice cream. I will just have to return another time to further broaden my Japanese cuisine horizons and save room for the dessert. back to the top

Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.



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