Quibbling over the difference between flawless and fabulous is perhaps silly, and of interest only to the handful of local fanatics to which I belong, but suffice it to say the tuna sashimi with quail egg I had a few months ago at Sushi Sawatdee was magical, while that which I had at Fuji Ya was merely good. For a meal of pure sushi, I'd still rather go to the only-sit-at-the-sushi-bar Sushi Sawatdee or the truly strange sushi bar at Café della Vita. (I've now decided that the black granite palace most closely resembles a Milanese trillionaire's bathroom.) But for a meal with any other components, I'd rather go to Fuji Ya--especially if those components include beef or ice cream.

One night I tried the beef tenderloin with mushrooms (at $21.50, the most expensive dish available) and was delighted to find a tender filet mignon cooked to perfect temperature. The accompanying sauté of shiitake, enoki, and button mushrooms were a lovely counterpoint, and it's nice to have something for non-fish-eaters to splurge on. Desserts are mostly variations on Sonny's unbeatable ice creams: vanilla, green tea, or ginger (prices range from $3.25 for a bowl of ice cream, to $4.50 for deep-fried tempura ice-cream). It's not only an unbeatable idea, but a nice tip of the hat to Minneapolis excellence.

Another subtle love letter to Minneapolis living can be seen in the front bar at Fuji Ya. Surrounding one column is a sparkly gold vinyl booth, which is exactly like--in an inside-out, completely opposite way--one of the famed booths by the piano bar at Nye's Polonaise Room. Tom Hanson says his wife, Carol Weston Hanson, was adamant about incorporating a little bit of Nye's verve into the new place. "Carol loves Nye's. She loves those gold booths," he explains. "Whenever you're there you have such a good time. When it came around to designing the place, she said we had to have a booth like Nye's. And now we do."

Eli Meyer

Location Info

Map

Fuji Ya Minneapolis

600 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

I'm telling you, there are acts upon acts upon acts in American life, and you can eat the proof of it: It's grilled hamachi cheek served in a brand-new, third-generation Japanese restaurant situated in an old tire store where diners might sit on a reinterpretation of a Polish piano bar's celebration-of-post-WWII-prosperity booths.

TABLEHOPPING:

THE GODS GIVETH, AND THEY TAKETH AWAY: But in Woodbury, they're just about coming out even. The Culinary School Café went under. That was the place that was both a cooking school and a nice restaurant. You watched the meal get prepared by some visiting, hoity-toity chef, and then you ate a plated dinner. Dinner and a show, but different. Yet somewhere in Woodbury, beloved St. Paul Italian deli and wine shop Buon Giorno is preparing to open a second location. Woodbury has lost the secrets to frenching a rack of lamb but gained the daily presence of wonderful sandwiches, sausages, and wine: Poor Woodbury.

Mark Marchionda, the general manager/buyer for the downtown St. Paul Buon Giorno, says the new location will have all the good points of the original Buon Giorno, but with added conveniences--like enough room to swing a cat in. Fans of this Italian deli know that it's legendarily cramped. That this jam-packed aspect was anything but charming had never occurred to me, but Marchionda ripped the scales from my eyes. Buon Giorno's always impressive wine selection represents a fraction of what he actually owns. "Here's an example," says Marchionda, "the '96 Barolo and '96 Barbaresco are two of the greatest vintages of the century, and a lot of what I've got doesn't even touch the shelves. I carry 20 Barolo. Maybe 10 see the shelves. The rest go to my best customers." Who are these privileged souls? Maybe as few as 20 dedicated collectors, says Marchionda, and another few dozen passionate Italophiles. So will the new Buon Giorno mean the rest of us will have an easier time getting at the rare wines, or less of a wait for prosciutto at Christmas? Only time will tell.

MEANWHILE, THE GODS GIVETH TO STILLWATER: An establishment very similar to the Culinary School Café has opened in the Grand Garage building in downtown Stillwater. It's a cooking school called the Chef's Gallery, and it holds both cooking demonstrations and participatory classes. (But don't assume you'll get a full, plated meal for your troubles; the Web site makes a point of mentioning you may want to eat before their classes.) Some upcoming classes include, on the cheap side, a $22 lunch where you'll learn how to make two versions of crab cakes (11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Friday, February 23), and, on the steeper side, a $75 benefit for Kids Café, during which Chino Latino's Michael Larson will teach participants how to make "hot zone" dishes like tuna tataki (seared ahi tuna with lemon, soy, sesame, and kaiware) and "Peruvian Jumping Chicken" (6:00-9:00 p.m. Saturday, February 24). The Chef's Gallery; 324 S. Main St., Stillwater; (651) 351-1144; www.thechefsgallery.com. Buon Giorno, 335 University Ave. E., St. Paul; (651) 224-1816.

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