Well, it has been two and a half years since my last foray into a sushi bar proclaimed excellent by the local media. Since that less than inspiring meal a new contender has emerged on the scene: Kado no Mise. Unpromisingly, it features the same chef from Origami, Shige Furukawa, who presided over our disastrous lunch there in 2014, and it’s in the same space. At this point you would think that I would know better than to fall for praise that’s so easily dished out in this area but hope of good raw fish springs eternal in my cold, cold heart. And so when an old friend from our Colorado days blew into town on work I made a reservation at Kado no Mise’s bar and met her there for dinner on a Wednesday night. I’m pleased to say that the meal was not a disaster. I’m less pleased to say that it was, nonetheless, passable at best and that a few things were not very good at all.
Kado no Mise (which apparently means “corner restaurant”) certainly presents a good simulacrum of a good Japanese restaurant. A lot of care has gone into its aesthetic. It’s an attractive space and it features a number of signifiers of “Serious Sushi Bar”: specially folded mini-napkins for wiping your fingers between handheld bites of nigiri, attractive presentation of cooked dishes, a lack of bizarro rolls (a Minnesota staple) and so on. They proclaim their adherence to a rigorous Edomae-style—in itself a good thing. Upstairs they’ve opened a kaiseki restaurant (Kaiseki Furukawa, named for the head chef who runs the sushi bar) and also a small “secret” whisky bar that features Japanese whisky (well, it’s about as secret as a place can be that’s talked about in reviews and whose name is on the front door).
All of these things together seem to have impressed a lot of people. Finally, it appears, the Twin Cities metro area has a serious sushi bar and a kaiseki restaurant! Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly—considering that the same people had previously sung the praises of places like Sushi Fix, Kyatchi and Origami—the reality of the food, at least at our dinner, doesn’t quite live up to the promise. As I say, the restaurant is a good simulacrum. Most things look as they should but either flavour or execution or both were lacking in a few too many things. And only one piece of fish was good enough to make me want another of it. (The usual caveat: this is a report on one weeknight dinner; though if the chefs’ skills and/or the quality of the fish vary wildly from night to night, they should let us know which nights to avoid.)
After we placed our first order we were each given a small portion of sunomono (cucumber and kelp salad) with small chunks of hirame (fluke/flounder); it was unremarkable. We started our meal proper with an order of chawanmushi and ebi shiso age from their warm dishes menu. The chawanmushi was very attractively presented and certainly looked like the right thing but it lacked depth: there was absolutely no hint of umami and as far as flavour is concerned, the king crab might as well not have been there. The ebi shiso age was no better: blue prawn wrapped in a shiso leaf, battered and fried, the batter was too heavy and the frying too greasy; the prawn disappeared into it. At this point, my friend turned to me and asked only semi-jokingly if we should bail and go somewhere else. Let’s stick it out, I said, and see what the first few pieces of fish are like. And so, on to the nigiri.
We eschewed both the omakase option—I’m not spending that much money on sushi in Minnesota till I am guaranteed it will be at least very good—and the $45 sushi flight. Two orders of the latter were put together quickly in front of us by the head chef and the knife work seemed a little perfunctory. We hoped for better considering we were ordering a few pieces at a time. We started with kurosoi (black sea robin/rockfish) and tai (sea bream). The first thing we noted was that there was too much wasabi under the kurosoi; the second thing we noted was that the rice was a bit too gummy. The fish themselves were unobjectionable. And so we moved on to try a few more: shima aji (striped jack), saba (mackerel) and kohada (gizzard shad). The shima aji was the best piece of fish at the meal; though the cut on my piece left something to be desired, the texture and flavour were as they should be. The mackerel had all the skin removed and whatever cure they’d subjected it to had effectively removed most of the unctuous mackerel flavour. The kohada, unfortunately, suffered both from the fish being too dry and the execution being a bit of a mess (see the slideshow below).
Undeterred, we decided to try a couple more things (well, I should say I was undeterred: my friend was not looking very happy at this point). Hotate (scallop) and sumi-ika (cuttlefish) were next. The scallop was fine though it had a bit too much yuzo kosho on it; the cuttlefish/squid featured some solid knife-work but divided us: I liked it but my friend did not care for the texture. I’d originally hoped to try quite a few more things but we decided to close things out with ikura (salmon roe) and uni (sea urchin gonads). Despite being listed on the nigiri menu, these were unexpectedly served over rice in tiny bowls. The ikura would have been good but whatever they’d marinated it in had overpowered its brininess with sweetness. The uni—from Hokkaido, we were told—was just about acceptable: it tasted like it was teetering on the edge of being past its prime; a disappointment as the Hokkaido uni had been the one true high point of our lunch at Origami in 2014. And, of course, the rice was what it was.
For pictures of the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. For thoughts on value, service etc. and a few more thoughts that will doubtless endear me further to the local professionals (to the extent they know I exist), scroll down below.
My friend had a glass of sake ($13). With tax and tip the total came to $67 each. Pull out the sake and the warm dishes and we’d be at about $45/head for the sushi. Which is at least not as expensive as it could have been. Service was present and able; though we could have done with a little less of the head chef’s close surveillance of us after he’d set down every piece of nigiri (it’s possible he sensed our ambivalence quite early). They don’t do nigiri at lunch, by the way: there’s a separate, more limited menu.
Now, it is probably true that Kado no Mise—despite my reservations above—is in fact the best sushi bar in the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, this is still not saying very much. It’s possible, and indeed very likely, that this is the best we can hope for, at least at this current time. But there is absolutely no reason to over-praise it. The usual intimations that this is as good as it gets anywhere both makes those who suggest such things seem incapable of making distinctions (which some of them may well be, I suppose), and does a disservice to their readers who are not going to (know to) expect better if they are constantly told that sushi at places like this is objectively very good and not just good for Minnesota. It’s true we now have a sushi restaurant that looks like the real deal; but let’s get over that and push the market to give us something more. In the meantime, if you really, really like the idea of the Twin Cities having a restaurant like this, you may be able to talk yourself into believing it delivers (in a different genre see also Travail).
And, oh yes, Kaiseki Furukawa: after the chawanmushi and ebi age at this meal, there is no way in hell I’m shelling out for a kaiseki dinner here on my own dime. If you’ve been and can compare it to similar restaurants in other major cities, please write in below. And also please feel free to heap coals on my head if you think I’m completely wrong about Kado no Mise. Just know, that at this dinner, I was the happier diner and that the other person lives in Boulder, not Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York…