Apple Valley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, is not a place you’d probably look for Japanese food in and my experiences at Masu Sushi & Noodles suggest that it’s probably best if you don’t. It’s not bad per se but the best I could say of the best of what I ate was that it was inoffensive. This is generally true of the larger Japanese food scene in the area. Whether it’s the original Origami or newer places like Sushi Fix or Kyatchi, restaurants that would be marginal in most major cities in the US are talked about breathlessly here by the professionals as though they could hold their own anywhere. This makes it hard to know what to make of highly-praised newer places, whether at the high end (see, for example, the new sushi and kaiseki place by an ex-Origami chef) or at the more affordable end (see the newer noodle/ramen shops that have opened in Minneapolis). Well, I can tell you that Masu Sushi & Noodles in Apple Valley is not a place you should go to expecting good sushi or noodles. Believe me, I would be very happy if I could tell you otherwise. Unfortunately, they’ve put far more effort into their vaguely Orientalist decor than into their recipes and execution.
This is, by the way, the third location in the group’s mini-chain. Their flagship location is in Northeast Minneapolis and there’s another in the Mall of America. Both have been praised by local professional critics. (As far as I can tell the need to be able to say that there is good Japanese food in the Twin Cities trumps the reality of Japanese food in the Twin Cities.) The Apple Valley location of Masu opened a couple of years ago and sits in a little strip mall off Cedar Avenue. Whereas the other locations are billed as Masu Sushi & Robata, this one is Masu Sushi & Noodles. That might lead you to believe that they put effort into their ramen but this is not true.
On my first visit, I was by myself and sat at the bar for a quick lunch. I ordered their ginger-scallion ramen, figuring that this lightly seasoned iteration would give me the best opportunity to take the measure of their broth. Well, it was bland and character-free and the texture suggested that they’re not very particular about it. Nor were the noodles anything worth talking about. Since I am a glutton for punishment I also tried some of their sushi. While normally available as 2 pcs per order, they were kind enough to let me order by the piece. What I got ranged from the bland to the bland: chilled fish, devoid of flavour or appropriate texture, atop too cold rice. And served with the most abominable wasabi that was ever extruded from a tube that should have been tossed months ago.
Despite this showing, the missus and I stopped there for lunch together a week later. Our hope was that my experience was an outlier (we have friends who like it and had recommended it to me). We got an order of ramen each from the lunch menu. Her kimchi ramen featured flabby kimchi and she didn’t finish it. My pork belly ramen with spicy broth was probably the best of the three ramens across the two meals, and that was probably because the spicy add-on covered up the deficiencies of the broth. The crispy pork belly itself was devoid of character. Still, in a pinch, I could see myself ordering this again. That cannot be said of the togarashi calamari we tried to get as an appetizer. It showed up after the ramen and despite being billed as tempura, it featured gloppy batter that had all but fallen off the rings of calamari. We returned it and declined the offer of a replacement.
Pictures of the restaurant and the meals below. Scroll down for comments on price etc.
The quality of what I/we ate across the two meals would be a little more acceptable if it were more reasonably priced. But my bland ramen and four pieces of marginal nigiri at the first meal came to $31 all-in and our two bowls of just about acceptable ramen (on average) at the second meal came to $33. If we’d sucked it up and eaten the crappy calamari we would have been pushing $45. That’s just way too much for the quality of this. It’s not like the Vietnamese options in the area are far better but the next time I’m in the mood for noodle soup in the vicinity I’ll just get pho at Pho Everest (at least, it’s not priced like it’s better than it is). Service was friendly but largely absent. And at weekday lunch on both occasions they were fairly deserted. They probably do a lot more business at dinner—as to whether the cooking is better then, I don’t know and don’t plan to find out. And I’m afraid these experiences have not made me want to try their other branches either.
Coming up next from the Twin Cities, probably more Thai food. Early next year I’ll try to get to some of the hotter ramen/noodle shops in Minneapolis and see if they’re very much better than Masu in Apple Valley.