During this Thanksgiving weekend, I flew up to Portland for a quick holiday weekend to visit my sisters. But even though we had a big Thanksgiving dinner (we celebrated on Friday since I flew in late Thursday), I convinced my sister we needed to try the new Afuri ramen restaurant in Portland’s SE Industrial neighborhood.
My older sister and I went for a late dinner (the restaurant opens later on the weekends till 11 p.m.) around 9:30 p.m. Friday and was easily seated at a table. Afuri, which is a popular Tokyo chain and the Portland location is its first U.S. outpost, doesn’t accept reservations and has reportedly drawn the typical long lines of ramen lovers waiting to get in since it opened just a month ago.
Afuri chose Portland as its first U.S. location because the area’s water (Portland’s water is “soft” with less minerals) is perfect for its signature ramen, which leans toward the lighter, delicate broth. And for its first location, Afuri didn’t hold back in the design, creating a beautiful space in a former warehouse with a large bar, huge open kitchen with robata grill, and several tables including a large communal table.
I also fell in love with the dinnerware, which all had beautiful designs, including the special bowls that carry the ramen.
Since this was a light dinner, we started with something light: the seaweed salad ($6) for my sister and the special “chef’s spoons” ($12) for me, which are two spoons that are like amuse bouches, offering a taste that is complex and exquisitely presented. One spoon was filled with sweet shrimp, red crab, sesame, quail egg and micro shiso that was delicate and subtle. The other spoon was an oyster with tobiko, salmon roe, caviar and scallion, but I wasn’t a fan because of the cream that the oyster was swimming in.
For the ramen I had the signature bowl of Yuzu Shio ($15) , which is a light-colored broth that’s a reduction of dried seafood, seaweed, an assortment of salted items with citrus notes from the yuzu. Afuri also offers four other types of ramen broths, including the popular rich chicken (tori paitan), spicy ramen, and a special vegan ramen of truffle miso.
The yuzu shio was indeed light, which I totally needed after a heavy dinner earlier that night. The ramen is thin and light, which I enjoyed although my sister says she likes the thicker ramen noodles. Everything in the bowl was interesting and different than other ramen I’ve had in the Bay Area, including the unusual pork slice that is slightly charred and the texture reminded me of Spam served in saimin in Hawaii.
The ramen’s soft boiled egg was the best I’ve ever had, an unusually tender egg where the whites are silky but still almost rubbery, but in a good way where the whites stay firm but is easy to bite into. It’s just really hard to explain, you just have to try it for yourself if you’re in Portland!
Since my sister wanted something lighter instead of ramen noodles, she ordered the sashimi moriawase ($36), which is the chef’s special of sashimi (raw fish slices) that include four catches of the day. On this night, the large bowl of sashimi included yellowtail, big eye tuna, albacore and salmon. She felt they were all fresh and clean tasting, served with fresh wasabi.
Along with ramen and sashimi, Afuri has a well-rounded menu that includes small plates and robata grilled skewers (you can see the stack of binchotan coals burning in the center of the open kitchen), and sushi rolls. There’s also a comprehensive alcohol menu, including sake, 10 types of Japanese whiskey, sochu and beer. (I had the Wanderlust IPA, $6, from Breakside Brewing because I think the name is perfect for a traveler like me.)
The last bite
Portland seems to attract a lot of ramen chains from Japan (another recent opening included Marukin), and Afuri looks like the splashiest to date. Despite the Japanese touches, there’s a real Portland vibe with the sous chefs and servers. The light ramen broth is a nice alternative, and the space creates a festive environment. This is ramen for a big city that for now is only available in the United States in quirky Portland.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Afuri, 923 SE 7th Ave. (at Belmont), Portland. PH: 503.468.5001. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. afuri.us
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