Best Restaurants 2018: Still-Flapping

Portland’s Best New Restaurants 2018: Nimblefish Serves Up Serious Sushi

All the fish. None of the frills.

By Benjamin Tepler October 10, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Old-school sushi prep at SE Portland's Nimblefish

We’ve never been a sushi town, and that’s OK. It takes a sizable Japanese population, coastal geography, and most important, money, to keep the most serious sushi cities ticking.

But in 2018 two local sushi chefs, Cody Auger and Dwight Rosendahl, opened Nimblefish—an old-school Edomae-style den of raw fish, carefully sourced from Oregon and Washington, or hastily flown from Tokyo’s fearsome auctions. Not only is the duo serving rarely seen, still-flapping, lightly cured nigiri with textures ranging from custard to Swedish fish, they’ve cut all the bullshit, too: no tatami mats, no California rolls, no yuzu highballs. Add in a cameo from whip-smart sommelier Kurt Heilemann (of Davenport), who stocks the bar with 28 wines tailor-made for the raw stuff, and you’ve got something exceptional.

In August, Bon Appétit named Nimblefish one if its “Best New Restaurants in America.” Here are a few reasons we’d agree: glistening summer chinook as fresh to us as it might be to a brown bear during a salmon migration; baby sea bream, amazingly complex and shimmering pink like rose quartz; a perfect rectangle of tamago, folded with as many eggy layers as a croissant—and sweeter, smokier, and silkier than any Japanese omelet you’ve had.

We don’t mind the strict rules (nigiri, sashimi, and handrolls only; no soy sauce, no wasabi, no substitutions) and high prices ($65 for a seven-piece omakase). That’s the nature of the beast. Though, we’d note that for a place so serious about its fish and streamlined regimen (hand-rolls are left unfurled for fear the 30-second journey from kitchen to table will cause the seaweed to wilt), there’s an awful lot of horseplay among the staff, and precious little interface between chef and guest. It makes the whole experience feel a bit exclusive and impersonal. But for this level of curation and craft, we’ll cope.

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