Fine Living

The Twin Cities' newest sushi spots are just fine, but they also offer mad-crazy rolls

Ba-Gu
4741 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
612.823.5254
www.bagusushi.com

Wasabi Fusion Cuisine
903 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
612.339.6688

As cheerful as Holidazzle, without all the product placement: Ba-Gu's Four Seasons Roll
Bill Kelley
As cheerful as Holidazzle, without all the product placement: Ba-Gu's Four Seasons Roll

Mt. Fuji Sushi & Hibachi Restaurant
7904 Main St. N., Maple Grove
763.315.5885

I wrote many years ago that the Twin Cities could stand another dozen sushi restaurants—and while I did write that, I can't say I took the time to really think it through.

Did I imagine that all these new places would have sushi like gossamer rose petals drifting table-ward from magical clouds of ocean mist? Not really, I was just looking at the local terrain, and seeing that there were a lot of people of a certain income level who did not have sushi spots close at hand. A vacuum, if you will. A series of underpopulated niches. Now I find myself having spent a month eating in nothing but underpopulated niches, and, in a word, I say: Our many new sushi spots are fine. They're just fine.

The fish is good enough. The lunch specials are priced right. The servers are on the ball. The restaurant spaces are pleasant to while away a few hours in. Let me tell you, my bosses love it when I rack up fat bills at new restaurants and then report on them in the manner of a sullen teen: How was your day? Fine. What do you mean, fine? "I mean fine, okay! Fine! Fine! I didn't ask to be born!" (Door slams offscreen and soon the sound of sobbing is heard, followed by the muffled rage of Korn. Then the anguished tap-tapping of internet shopping.)

Ahem. Ba-Gu and Wasabi, the newest Minneapolis sushi spots, are certainly the pick of the litter. Both offer sushi that's good, fresh, and just made, but otherwise unspectacular. I suspect this is the only option they have, as Anemoni, Minneapolis's last big sushi restaurant to open, seems to have proved that scouring the country for the best available sushi chef, installing top-dollar infrastructure, spending to the hilt for the most costly ingredients, and then passing those costs on to the diner guarantees nothing so much as a great restaurant for holding spontaneous yodeling contests, playing frisbee golf, herding goats, or doing other such things that might disturb diners, as there aren't any.

Ba-Gu, situated in a pretty Tudor neighborhood just north of Minnehaha Creek, is a stylish, serene jewelbox of a restaurant with modern steel art on the walls and chairs upholstered in silky ruby, amethyst, and coral fabrics. Ba-Gu offers everything you'd want in a neighborhood Japanese restaurant and sushi bar: It has all the appropriate nigiri pieces (those slices of fish or similar things laid across a finger of rice), all the crisp and light tempura things, all the light salads, and Japanese comfort foods like chicken katsu.

More unusually, Ba-Gu also has kids' meals (such as a dinner of two chicken yakitori skewers with soup and rice for $5.50) and a number of sushi rolls that are not merely unusual, but truly baroque. The Sunrise ($12.95) was my favorite. For it, the chefs wrap rice stuffed with seared tuna, fresh grated ginger, and shiso leaves with paper-thin slices of still slightly green mango—the tart mango and anise-like shiso seem to generate an almost electric energy when paired. Also good was the Salmon Fever ($13.95), in which grilled salmon skin, raw salmon, smoked salmon, and salty salmon roe unite for an explosion of four-way salmon action. The Four Seasons Roll ($12.95) offers a fairly staid combination of tuna, avocado, and cucumber made as gaudy and cheerful as a Holidazzle float with four colors of flying-fish roe. All the other sushi and sashimi I had at Ba-Gu was good enough, but not good enough to go on and on about.

I tried a number of the restaurant's less Japanese dishes as well, wondering if I'd find its true heart, but what I found was a sub-par pad thai made with overcooked shrimp ($13.75) and a surprisingly good masaman curry ($13.75) made with a silky, hauntingly spicy, and complex sauce. If I lived in the neighborhood, I imagine I'd be in Ba-Gu weekly; it shines especially as a lunch destination, and should be incredibly popular with the many architects and designers who live in that green and tidy area and office at home. Another benefit that Ba-Gu offers to neighbors is high-style takeout: One night when I ate there, I saw a large sushi and kids' meal order delivered into the hands of a frantic dad who dashed in, his credit card aloft and extended before him like a baton in a relay race. Moms, dads, architects, homeowners, and empty-nesters in the verdant lands by the creek, lend me your ears: Your sushi has arrived!

Meanwhile, downtown, others party hard, or dine quickly during business hours, and prefer to do so on a budget. For them, Wasabi Fusion Cuisine just opened on Washington between the Metrodome and the new Guthrie. Wasabi has lots of free parking in its big lot, and is enclosed within a beautiful, temple-like space of soaring ceilings and sturdy 19th-century rafters. I don't know why the "fusion cuisine" is in Wasabi's name, unless it refers to fusing Americans to the greatest hits of Japanese restaurants—I didn't find any Latin, Kenyan, Yugoslavian, or whatever cross-cultural notes that phrase is supposed to connote. I did find a lot of perfectly stand-up Japanese food: The noodles were hot, the sushi was the common level of fresh, the beer was cold. The two things that distinguish Wasabi are, like Ba-Gu, some crazy, crazy rolls, and the crazy low prices. At either lunch or dinner, a big platter of sushi for two people costs $31; a big party platter for four or more runs $60. At lunch, you can buy three big sushi rolls for $9.50; meals at the playful open-grill teppanyaki tables manned by chefs with clattering knives are priced to move (ha ha!). A teppanyaki chicken and shrimp meal costs $11 at lunch or $18.50 at dinner and comes with soup, salad, and noodles.

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