Pie to Thai

Now Tengo, for the less sushi-obsessed, is a jovial genius who has taken the Best Sushi crown with him wherever he has gone. He spent six and a half memorable years dazzling the crowds behind the counter at Origami, then moved on to Fuji-Ya for a year and a half. So where are Sushi lovers to follow him next? Whither Tengo?

Hold on to your hats, kids: If there's a one of you smart enough to see this coming, I'll eat mine. He's in a sports bar in an Italian restaurant over a boxing ring.

More or less, anyway. Turns out that Tengo is heading the sushi-bar part of Cafe Della Vita, the upscale Italian restaurant forthcoming at the Minneapolis Life Time Athletic Club. What's that, you say? Remember the old-brick-and-ivy private club that looms like a castle over Second Avenue and Sixth Street in downtown Minneapolis? Well, the building has been bought by Life Time Fitness, which is upgrading the whole structure--and installing a boxing ring.

Diana Watters

Location Info

Map

Ketsana's Thai Restaurant

7545 Lyndale Ave. S.
Richfield, MN 55423-4011

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Richfield

Tengo's fiefdom will be called the Sushi Sports Bar in Cafe Della Vita; it will have about two dozen tables, a full bar, a horseshoe-shaped sushi bar, and fancy plasma TVs. If sampling sushi in a sports bar sounds like tasting wine at a manure lagoon, fear not: The whole building is smoke-free--or so says Thad Carter, a server I talked to as the restaurant was vibrating with construction noise. Cafe Della Vita, he adds, "is really nice--the décor is white stucco and cherry wood, lots of contemporary light fixtures. It's elegant along the lines of Zelo and Palomino. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a solid 8 or 8.25." 8.25! Everybody's so fucking smart.

I also got to talk to Tengo--born Teng Thao, and sick to death of orange-beverage jokes: "Sometimes I think I'll change my name just so I don't have to hear that one any more." The restaurant will have no Japanese kitchen, he explains, so his showcase will consist of "basically just sushi, casual sushi. For sure this will be the most beautiful sushi bar in town. There will be a marble countertop."

Tengo also disabused me of the notion that a great sushi bar is all in the quality of the fish: Yes, he has special contacts with brokers in L.A., Chicago, and Florida, but even so, "The truth is, you can't get number-one quality tuna every day." Instead, he insists, the secret is a staff so organized, so scrupulous, and so in tune with a single set of standards, each piece of sushi that leaves the kitchen is cut and assembled as well as it can possibly be. (To that end, he has recruited a 12-year veteran of Saji-Ya in St. Paul as his side man for the Della Vita endeavor.)

Tengo also says that the last few months have been a godsend to him--even if they've been hard for sushi lovers. "I spent many, many hours at Fuji-Ya," he recalls. "Too many hours. I cut all the fish, I made the sushi, I was constantly there watching it. My wife, she was ready to throw me out: 'What are you, crazy?' she said. 'It's not even your own place.' But I'll be working like a dog when we get ready to open--I guess I better pack my bags."

So--not even your own place? Is there something we should know? Something behind Tengo's restless exploration of various restaurant styles and sizes? I asked, I queried, I quizzed, and then the sushi master told me--far more politely, of course--to wait and see, and not to be so fucking smart.

Cafe Della Vita and the Sushi Sports Bar are projected to open in mid-June, with a grand opening scheduled for mid-July; 615 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis; (612) 752-7000.

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