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A philharmonic of Japanese cooking

If you want to eat at Bluefin and fit seamlessly into the sea of young Japanese diners, you'll have to answer your cellphone between bites of sushi or spoonfuls of brimming noodle soup. When the room is full -- and it nearly always is -- Bluefin sounds like a discordant philharmonic, Pachelbel's Canon competing with the score to the Lone Ranger, all on ringing phones.

The orchestration is background for well-made Japanese specialties: sushi, which is a real deal; big bowls of nourishing soup; rich broiled fish; a sizzling platter of steak.

In a space along the back of the Porter Square Exchange Building, which also houses other Japanese restaurants and retail shops, Bluefin is in its seventh year. Owners Kiyohiko Minemoto and Masahiro Igarashi opened a second location in Middleton a month ago. The Porter Exchange Bluefin is so casual and friendly (and there's lots of parking), it would be easy to make this place a habit.

Many dishes on the menu, some called "set," came with miso soup, which was a rich little bowl. On the chilliest nights, make your meal from a two-soup menu and follow the miso with yosenabe ($11), a handsome two-handled metal bowl called a nabe pot -- something like a paella dish -- filled with fish broth, the thinnest shreds of chicken, calamari, shrimp, lots of bok choy, a mound of spinach, and four generous slices of tofu.

Or begin with seaweed salad ($5.50), oodles of slippery sesame-seasoned thin green "beans," or avocado salad ($7), the green fruit mixed with mayonnaise, set on iceberg, and topped with a spoonful of golden fish roe.

Beef comes a number of ways, including spicy beef don ($8.50), a generous bowl of rice with shaved, highly seasoned strips of meat. Beef tataki ($12), something like the Italian beef carpaccio, are very thin slices of meat so rare they seemed raw. But these slices were charred on the outside, arranged in a tight overlapping circle and served with a dark ponzu sauce.

A sirloin steak ($12 for 11 ounces) was less successful, too thin and overcooked, served with a thick stump of boiled carrot, a bowl of rice, and potato baked in foil. No kidding, there was actually a steakhouse potato on this sizzle plate.

Broiled mackerel ($6 as an appetizer, $9 with miso soup, tofu, salad, delicious turnip and cucumber pickles, and rice) was two slightly smoky triangles of rich fish. A salmon version was cut too thin and overcooked. But Japanese atka mackerel ($8 and $11), a splayed boneless fish, was dark and delectable.

An inside-out sushi roll (rice on the outside), wrapped around salmon skin, was outstanding ($3.80 for six pieces), and so was eel ($1.80), which was rich but not slippery.

Porter Square's Bluefin has 60 seats and an attentive staff that brings food quickly but forgets about you as soon as your order is complete. They're liable to let empty dishes sit at the edge of the table for an hour. But then, in the most charming way, a staff member swings by each table at the end of the night, announcing "Last call."

All Cheap Eats reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com at ae.boston.com/dining

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