It’s Saturday night, and the dining room at Bamboo Sushi is at capacity. The room throbs with ambient electro-pop as an attentive member of the gently tattooed waitstaff ushers me through the crowd at this chic-but-casual Laurelhurst sushi bar.
The dining room here is a vision of young, contemporary sophistication—a little dark, a little understated, but inviting enough. It has all the hallmarks of upscale sushidom: clean lines, stark walls, a solid-wood sushi bar backed by smooth black slate, and the dim glow of candles. But the trademark minimalism of Japanese dining ends promptly at the menu.
Ambitious to a fault, Bamboo Sushi’s menu is dense with options—brisket to burgers to salads to sashimi—which makes choosing my meal a nearly impossible task. The sake menu alone requires an intimidating level of mastery (brands are listed by the percentage of polish on the grains). Still, you have to respect a place that takes quality and selection as seriously as it does educating its public. Bamboo is owner Kristofor Lofgren’s dream of an eco-friendly sushi bar realized. Founded on the philosophy of promoting sustainable fishing practices, Bamboo is now famously certified by the Green Restaurant Association as the first “green” sushi restaurant in the United States. And Lofgren isn’t going to let you forget it.
Here, you’ll never see bluefin or octopus on the menu, or any other endangered creature that other restaurants haul in as high-end staples. The perpetually overfished and beleaguered albacore, for example, has been replaced at Bamboo by troll- and pole-caught Pacific albacore, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). A placard on my table tells me that my choice is making a difference.
In fact, I’m reminded of Bamboo’s green ethos at every turn. On the menu, colorful icons denote the sustainability certifications of nearly every dish, while the logos of Bamboo’s various marine conservation partners (including EcoTrust’s Salmon Nation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, and the Blue Ocean Institute) parade across the bottom. A delicious-sounding platter that includes an eight-piece spicy albacore roll and house-smoked ivory salmon nigiri is vaguely branded “MSC Plate.” Even the restaurant’s minimalist décor is almost disturbed by a banner proclaiming Bamboo’s green certification. The message is clear: sushi is an indulgence you can finally feel good about. But the relentless display of noble intentions and culinary bravado risks overcomplicating the fundamental point of this dining experience—fresh, delicious sushi.