By LINDEN GROSS, Author, Writing Coach & Copywriter
It had been a tough day. But there’s just nothing like deliciously creative sushi a couple of flights of sake in the company of good friends to lift one’s spirits.
We decided to sit at Kanpai’s sushi bar so that we could partake in the Omakase, which literally means chef’s choice. We told the chef about the foods we didn’t care for let him take over. Ordering this tasting dinner of dishes on off the menu turned out to be a stellar move. The fact that we didn’t have to make a single decision all night was just a bonus.
Our delightful sushi chef Ian started us out with a small portion of seaweed salad slightly chilled red crab that tasted like it had just crawled out of the ocean.
Next came one of my favorite dishes of the evening—two pieces each of melt-in-your-mouth bigeye tuna hamachi (yellowtail tuna), each dotted with a cilantro leaf served with white soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, Thai chili a sprinkling of golden tobiko (flying fish roe). The citrus hit first, followed by enough heat from the chili to lightly sear my lips. “If this were a guy, I’d want to take him home,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
The king salmon had a tough act to follow, but wrapped around a blanched asparagus tip topped with crispy fried leeks salmon roe, it more than held its own. The wild Alaskan albacore with tempura jalapeño creamy avocado in a sauce of blood orange olive oil ponzu (a citrus-based sauce with soy), however, was a revelation. The dish provided a concerto of contrasts, with the still warm jalapeño tempura playing off the coolness of the albacore, the hint of sweetness from the blood orange olive oil flirting with the whisper of spice that lingered in the pepper.
Two dishes with a sense of humor followed. Green Eggs Ham proved to be yellowtail tuna wrapped around rice topped with wasabi tobiko, a fried quail egg a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt, known for its big flakes. “It’s like breakfast in Japan,” said one of my friends. Now there’s a breakfast I could get used to. After an interlude of bocarones (fresh Spanish anchovies) served in a lemony sauce, we were each presented with Kanpai’s version of a broiled tomato. The yellow fin tuna wrapped around rice topped with warm, creamy Dynamite Scallops browned under a broiler was as lovely to look at as it was to eat.
We weren’t done yet. The Yakuza roll, which featured ahi tempura-fried jalapeño wrapped in rice draped with pieces of tender seared beef tenderloin, worked for me when I deconstructed it. Together the beef the fish seemed to fight each other. Eaten separately, I felt like a got a yummy twofer. Our final roll combined hamachi unagi (eel) wrapped in cucumber served with a sweet eel sauce. It was so yummy that it could have served as dessert. But I’m glad it wasn’t.
Most sushi restaurants don’t really shine in the dessert department. Kanpai is a notable exception. The desserts, which are all made in house, are both beautiful delicious. “That makes me so happy,” murmured one of my two dining companions when we were presented with the dessert platter. I was pretty happy myself after I tasted the green tea cheesecake, the vanilla crème brulée (“that’s the best one I’ve had in this town,” announced our other dining companion) the trio of toasted coconut, ground pumpkin seed green tea ice-creams.
Since its opening in February 2005, Kanpai has been voted Bend’s “best sushi” for five years running. Combine that with the warm ambiance friendly service, the fact that the restaurant offers hormone- antibiotic-free meats from local farms along with wild-caught fish shellfish whenever available, you have a winning combination. Cheers (or Kanpai as they say in Japan) to Kanpai.