There isn’t much worth reviewing, food-wise, in Northfield, the small Minnesota town in which we live, and so I haven’t reviewed much: only El Triunfo, a small, unpretentious Mexican restaurant and store. For a town with two colleges, we certainly don’t have the usual college town staples: there’s no Thai or Vietnamese; the two Chinese places are execrable and the one surviving Indian place is not much better, despite a welcome change in ownership. Beyond that is mostly sandwiches and the Ole Store, whose food falls quite a bit short of its pretensions and its local reputation and popularity. Which brings us to Tokyo Grill, a Japanese restaurant on Highway 3 that opened about five years ago (I want to say), and of which the best that can probably be said is that it is mostly inoffensive. I hadn’t planned to review it either—I’d only eaten there twice in the years since its opening—but a friend mock-criticized me for not reviewing more local places just a couple of days before I was scheduled to take a visiting guest there, and so here we are. Continue reading
Here is my second report on ramen in the Twin Cities. The first was of UniDeli, the quick service counter in the middle of the excellent United Noodles store in Minneapolis. Today I move across town to the St. Paul location of Ichiddo Ramen on University Avenue. They currently have thrree Twin Cities locations—the others are in Minneapolis—with more set to open in Roseville, Eden Prairie and Maple Grove. (Interestingly, they also have an outlet in Las Vegas.) I’m not sure which of the Twin Cities locations is the original but they all seem to have the same menu. They were recommended to me by a friend in response to my appeal, at the end of my UniDeli write-up, for more Twin Cities ramen recommendations. Accordingly, when I had to be in the vicinity last week for a spot of bidness we made plans to meet up there. Both our partners needed little arm-twisting to accompany us and between us we sampled enough for me to be able to say that I have a decent sense of their quality. That quality, I thought, is better than at UniDeli. Continue reading
United Noodles is a Twin Cities institution. For those of you not in the Twin Cities, it is a pan-Asian grocery store that stocks a large portion of what a home cook looking to make Japanese, Chinese or Korean food at home might need—and their South Asian selection will get you by as well. From vegetables not sold at regular groceries to skin-on pork belly and fish with their heads still on, from a variety of dried mushrooms to a variety of dried chiles, United Noodles is as close as you can get to a one-stop shop for stocking a pan-Asian pantry. Of course, there are stores dedicated to Korean (Dong Yang), Vietnamese and Hmong (Shuang Hur), and South Asian (a whole bunch off Central Ave. in Northeast Minneapolis, or TBS Mart in Richfield) food but United Noodles is where you can shop for most of what you need of most of those cuisines (plus Thai). And at UniDeli, the quick service counter at the center of the store, you can grab a pretty decent lunch as well, whether you are buying anything else or no. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Kyatchi is a relatively new entrant to the Minneapolis sushi market. It opened just about a year and a half ago and has steadily acquired a strong reputation. When I posted my account of our not-very-good meal at Origami last year a friend recommended it instead; and since then it’s been showing up near the top of many people’s lists. But the same is true of Sushi Fix and I was very far from impressed with my meal there. So, while I’d planned to hit Kyatchi right after that meal, I was a little gun shy. But then I read this interview with Chef Hide Tozawa on City Pages and he seemed to hit all the right notes for me, promising an experience not centered on wacky rolls, unlike at most MSP restaurants (“if you look at my menu, especially sushi, there are no Americanized rolls. I made those things enough in my career in the United States. I want diners at Kyatchi to see what a single ingredient can create if it is done right”); and suggesting that their selection is not limited by their laudable focus on sustainable fish (“Welcome to 21st century transportation. It’s great. You can get whatever you want overnight”). Continue reading
Every time we come back from Los Angeles in the summer I go through sushi withdrawal and begin to think hopefully about sushi in the Twin Cities. I’ve described my prejudices before, in my review of Origami, which, unfortunately, also seemed to see those prejudices confirmed. That experience seemed at the time enough to ward off thoughts of sushi in Minnesota for another 10 years. However, predictably enough, at the conclusion of this summer’s trip I once again began to think about eating sushi here.
For years I’ve been down on sushi in Minnesota, all the while harbouring a guilty secret: I hadn’t actually eaten at any of the better reviewed places. It just seemed highly unlikely to me that sushi at any of these places would be any good. No, I didn’t think this because we’re in the middle of the country. Given how much fish flies around the world and how much of what shows up in most sushi places in the US is previously frozen anyway that’s not the problem. Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be nice to get live Santa Barbara uni and spot prawns as you can in the better places in LA (for example, at Kiyokawa) but there’s plenty of other good fish that should be theoretically available. To be clear, I wouldn’t under any circumstances expect there to be sushi bars here on par with the top or second-tier places in Los Angeles but theoretically, at least, one might expect there to be places on par with the better neighbourhood establishments in LA. But I didn’t think this was likely either. Continue reading