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With fish flown in from Tokyo three times a week, Sushi Kuni hopes to provide a fresh experience.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Sushi Kuni's owners want to provide an authentic Japanese experience to people in West Linn.The idea for Sushi Kuni — a new, upscale Japanese restaurant in West Linn's Cascade Summit shopping center — was born during the sushi parties thrown by a small group of friends.

Brandon Leong, one of those friends and one of Sushi Kuni's three owners, said the sushi at these parties was the best he'd ever had.

One of the friends lived part time in Japan and had connections to get high-quality sushi. He'd have it flown overnight from Japan, Leong said.

Another member of the group lives in West Linn, so they knew there were no nice restaurants in the area that stayed open late. Eventually, they decided to use their connections in Japan to bring the best sushi and an authentic Japanese experience to West Linn, giving the town a new late-night dining option. Leong said they plan for the restaurant to stay open until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

More than a dozen friends and partners flew in from Japan last week to attend Sushi Kuni's grand opening July 26-28.

To find themselves surrounded by friends and family, enjoying fresh, high-quality sushi and rare Japanese whiskey and sake, the team behind the restaurant put in a lot of work over the past couple of years.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - A bartender pours a drink at Sushi Kuni's grand opening. The new restaurant will offer rare Japanese whiskey and sake. They began working on the restaurant in 2020, just as the world was locking down due to COVID-19.

"We couldn't go to Japan, and people from Japan couldn't come here. A lot of stuff was done over Zoom and phone calls," Leong said.

They wanted the entire restaurant, not just the food and drinks, to be as authentically Japanese as possible. This meant shipping all sorts of decor, light fixtures and art, including a 430-year-old painting, from Japan to West Linn.

"It's funny how we finally put all this stuff together, because there were so many challenges," Leong said.

He recalled flying back from Japan with a traditional tatami, or tea house rug, after the country's lockdown was finally lifted.

"I got back (to Portland) at 2:30 in the morning and the UberXL wouldn't take it," Leong said. "I had to chase down a taxi van that would take it."

To make the menu as authentic as possible, Sushi Kuni's chefs are all Japanese — two of them having trained in Japan and another has a father who was a sushi chef in Japan.

Leong is working to obtain a visa for a Japanese pastry chef so she can work at the restaurant as well.

Along with plenty of authentic options, Sushi Kuni's menu also offers "fusion rolls," which combine the tastes of Japan and the U.S.

"We relied on them (the chefs) to craft the menu, and we wanted real authenticity," Leong said. "But we want to assimilate into the American culture, so we have fusion rolls. Those are primarily for the U.S. and have things like spicy mayo. We don't do that in Japan."

Leong believes the restaurant was able to attract talented Japanese chefs because of their intentions to be as traditional as possible.

"It's not going to be a conveyor belt or taking a piece of rice and throwing fish on it," he said.

"You're coming here to get a real taste of Japan."

Sushi Kuni, which Lenog said roughly translates to "sushi kingdom" or "sushi nation," plans to have fish flown overnight from Japan three times a week.

Visit Sushi Kuni at 21450 Salamo Road.

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