Yosaku is highly regarded by Portland’s sushi-sashimi cognoscenti for its pristine fresh fish simply presented.
I love the flavors of Asian food especially from the exotica of fusion-world of chefs like our own Masa Miyake, whose take on Japanese cuisine is more exciting than a dinner comprised solely on the quirky verisimilitudes of raw fish, tempura and skewered grilled meats. I therefore fully disclose that I have no appreciation for sushi or its derivatives, and if someone mentions a California roll I’m apt to think of a hoagie stuffed with sprouts and avocado.
Yet if Japanese power diners covet o-toro tuna belly as readily as Francophiles dote on foie gras, such a sushi renaissance still seems far away in Portland beyond our standard sushi/sashimi offerings. Exceptions are the noodle house, Pai Men Miyake, and the superb omakase menus at the Miyake on Fore Street. Kushiya Benkay’s creative pub menu, however, of grilled and skewered dishes is reliable. Otherwise we’re not apt to find dazzling $100 dinners showcasing Santa Barbara uni or scallops flown in from Hokkaido typical of sushi palaces in cities bulging with big spenders.
Still, I do appreciate the simplicity of sushi and sashimi — often beautiful displays of raw and cured fish artfully arranged on the plate. And when friends asked that I join them at Yosaku for dinner I accepted for better or worse.
For sushi-sashimi connoisseurs Yosaku is highly regarded, and many of its fans say it’s the best that Portland has to offer. The menu is huge with page after page of exhaustive variations on the same theme. The grilled fare and fried foods are well represented, too. And what we shared that evening was adequate, some of it good.
The excellent pork dumplings were stuffed with well-seasoned meat and the underside of the dumplings crisp from pan frying while the presentation side was soft and delectable.
A gorgeous serving of grilled black cod marinated in saikyo miso was sublime, the fish yielding the perfect texture — just barely cooked leaving the intense flavor of the fish intact. Another dish of Spanish horse mackerel highly redolent of ginger, miso, shiso and ponzu was a fine dish that disappeared instantly as though the three of us were attacking a hot-fudge sundae.
There was a lone dish of hamachi (yellow tail), deliciously fresh set off with curls of ginger and wasabi. The tuna rolls that one of my friends had were good, but to me eating 20 or 30 of these is boring. I’d rather munch on a PB&J sandwich.
I fiddled with the menu for a long time to find a satisfying main dish. I settled on nabe mono ( hot pot soup of the day), which turned out to be a cauldron of steaming hot soup filled with lobster, scallops, white fish and noodles in a rich miso broth. I never saw the bottom of that bowl. It was way too big and not right for sharing without ladling into separate bowls.
Ultimately, I can recommend Yosaku because of the genre it’s as good as we get in Portland. The service is attentive, the wait staff is knowledgeable and the traditional choices well prepared. The décor is pleasant and if my honest thoughts about this kind of cooking in general will make followers shake their heads, take it from whence it comes. In the end, one should stick to what one knows!
Yosaku, 1 Danforth St., Portland, ME (207) 780-0080