PORTLAND – I call it conveyor belt sushi.
And as far as sushi restaurants go, this one is really pretty ingenious.
Tucked away in downtown Portland, in the heart of the great metroplis of Oregon’s largest city, is one of the most interesting and unique sushi restaurants I’ve ever been to. I’ve gone there twice now, and it seems to have an ability to entrance and enchant me – particularly during Happy Hour, which lasts more than an hour and entices you with its discounted prices. I want a Sushi Sakura about a block or two from my home in Orlando. Maybe I’ll open a franchise.
Sushi Sakura is at 506 SW 6th Avenue in Portland, in a busy metropolitan downtown with lots of competing restaurants to pick from. I wandered into it by chance, not expecting what I got – a quiet place on a Thursday afternoon that, by 3 p.m., was ready to celebrate Happy Hour.
There are no tables in Sushi Sakura, no booths for you and your family to cuddle up in. Instead, it’s all done deli-style.
There’s a spacious circle in the middle of the room where the chefs prepare the sushi, and surrounding them is one of the largest conveyor belt systems I’ve ever seen. On top of it is … plate after plate after plate of sushi. There are literally hundreds of plates on that continuous loop of material that rotates around you. You sit, cafteria-style, in front of the conveyor belt – close enough to reach up and take any plate you want – which, as it turns out, is the whole point of Sushi Sakura. It’s the grand deli of sushi. But first, get to know a little something about the way the system works.
The sushi and appetizers on the revolving counter come in five different colored plates – and the colors determine the price you’ll pay per plate. The red plate is the cheapest, at $1.25 each, and are reserved mainly, it appears, for the appetizers: cucumber roll, edamane, spring roll, seaweed salad, etc.
Next on the list is the Orange plates. At $1.75 each, these sushi offerings include ebi, squid, saba and salmon sushi.
Green plates go for $2.25 each, and include tuna, veggie, unagi and tako sushi.
The blue and purple plates are the most expensive, at least until Happy Hour. The blue plates cost $3 each, and offer such items as albacore tuna, ichi roll and tobiko sushi. The purple plates, the grand ones, include the more exotic offerings of dancing eel rolls, red devil rolls, tsumani rolls and hamachi.
There’s also miso soup on the menu for $1.25, but mostly you’re there for those small plates of sushi, and believe me, you’ll get dizzy trying to keep track of how many there are going past you as you’re seated at that counter. Each plate typically contains either two or four pieces of sushi.
There’s also one dessert, as far as I can tell: a red plate with three small round eclairs, covered in the richest and sweetest chocolate sauce imaginable. You may find yourself grabbing multiple red éclair plates.
Right in front of you, you’ll find a bottle of soy sauce, a container filled with ginger, and another one with some spicey hot Wasabi green mustard. There are black boxes filled with chopsticks, and plenty of wines and sodas to pick from.
And my advice: go around 3 p.m. It’s the start of Happy Hour. It actually runs from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily, and in that time, if you order a drink – any drink, alcoholic or tee-totaler alike – the prices of all the plates fall down to the same as orange, just $1.75 each – except, of course, for the red plates, which are 50 cents cheapers. So the purple, blue and green plates go down to the same price as orange for those three and a half hours. Not a bad deal.
When I went on Friday, I got there at 2:55 p.m. My waiter let me sneak into Happy Hour five minutes early, and I tell you, about 15 minutes later, the place was packed. The locals understand not only the economic benefits of those Happy Hour savings in a tough economy … but also how delectably tasty the sushi is here. I no longer had the place to myself once Happy Hour had started, and that was no surprise.
Sushi Sakura has been around for about a year, the staff tells me – another truly neat West Coast innovation. They’re open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. To learn more, call the restaurant at 503-206-8663.
And whatever you do, please ask them to open a franchise in Orlando.
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