Fresh Fish Phoenix

Origami reinvents itself with new chefs; aims for stars

It is at the sushi bar, ordering the omakase, though, that the heavens really start to crack open and show you the pure light. Omakase (pronounced oh-meh-kah-seh) is literally chef's choice--it's when you give the sushi chef carte blanche. Manager Barnes says that omakase meals can be done for $30 to $50 a head, or even more if you called ahead and they had time to do some advance planning.

It was during a $45 omakase feast-of-dreams that I got that dish with the fish-batter lattice, which astonished me on every level. It was so beautiful to behold, so luxurious to eat. I also had another six courses, which included such rarities as sliced sea cucumber on a bowl of grated white radish, a combination which plays with the most striking textures, both gelatinous and grainy, and contrasts that with the sweet mineral of the sea cucumber and pinprick taste of the radish. Asparagus was sautéed, piled into a little lean-to, and presented with a cascade of fried clam bellies, their light exteriors and livery middles a joy in every way.

There were the things I mentioned above, there was sashimi, there was sushi, and finally there was coconut ice cream pressed into a mold that looked like a coconut shell, and little chocolate-dipped cookie sticks, and orchid petals, and those mochi, which in this instance were like Japanese bonbons, and as cute as buttons, if buttons were made of ice cream and presented in a bowl of orchid petals. Have I ever been happier at a meal in the Twin Cities? I don't think so; it was one for the record books.

However, I also think it's something they'll only unleash for you on, say, your third visit, when it becomes apparent that a bowl of sea cucumber isn't going to send you screaming out the door. I've given this an insane amount of thought, and have concluded that I can't say I blame them. I'm thinking of it as the "how are you" test: There's an answer you'll give to that question to a stranger at a party, and an answer you'll give to a friend, and it's just prudent human nature to act that way.

Unless, of course, you're a celebrity. Popular icons from Elvis Costello to Tony Hawk to Al Roker to Mudvayne have all made Origami a regular stop when they're in town, and I'm guessing it's because the restaurant pulls out all the stops for them. On the other hand, when you're dealing with those sorts of celebrities, you have a pretty high certainty that they've eaten out in Japan, a lot.

So will you, you Kris Olson of the Bloomington-area Olsons, will you see an ice cream mochi, if you go to Origami?

Not right away, because certain things, like the mochi, are given out only as sushi-bar treats for the regulars, and when I quizzed restaurant manager Barnes about how many regulars there really are, he guessed about 15 or 20 core units, either individuals known for bringing guests, or pairs, be they friends or couples. Those core customers tend to come in from twice a week to twice a month, and you could easily be one of them if you have the cash and put in the time. Otherwise, you will spend the rest of your life quite secure in the awful knowledge which I--but wait!

Perhaps you are not really strong enough to follow this review to its true conclusion? Perhaps sometimes knowledge can be as awful as it is exhilarating?

Because true love may not alter when it alteration finds, but true lives do alter quite a bit when they good sushi find. And Visa bills alter even worse.

Well, you're in for it now. Since you've followed this story all the way to its terrible conclusion I can tell you that yes, sushi lovers, I have discovered and now verified and re-verified your deepest fear: There are 30, or perhaps 50, people in town eating sushi so fabulous that it rewrites all previously understood rules of experience, geography, sourcing, or even Minnesota creativity and potential. And all it takes to join their ranks is a few breaking-the-ice visits, followed by 20 nights a year, and the ability to utter the "open sesame" phrase of the sushi world: omakase.

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