R. Norman's and 7 Sushi Lounge: work it

Buttoned-down bankers and tie-less creatives converge downtown

700 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.238.7770 • www.rnormans.com
entrees $18-$48; appetizers $6-$19

700 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.238.7777 • www.7mpls.com
sushi/sashimi $4-$15 ; appetizers $5-$15

On a recent Tuesday night at the 7 Sushi Lounge in downtown Minneapolis, a guy with frosted hair, distressed designer jeans, and cowboy boots was splayed out on one of the low, square couches, flanked by two women. Glowing pillars changed color patterns like the roof of the nearby Target building as house music pulsed ntsss...ntsss...ntsss... in the background. The man sipped from a tall, silver can of Sapporo and listened to one of the women, who reached her chopsticks toward a piece of sashimi as she spoke. The other woman, dressed in a pencil skirt and knee-high boots, scribbled something in a notebook. Suddenly I got it: They were working.

At R. Norman's, seal the deal with a steak and a handshake
courtesy of R.Norman's
At R. Norman's, seal the deal with a steak and a handshake

With this realization, my friend and I finished our caterpillar roll in silence so we could eavesdrop on a different table. "You know how Wall Street is," the first man said. Ntsss...ntsss...ntsss... "I love the candles," the second man gushed. Ntsss...ntsss... "To Target partnerships," the woman said, and the three clinked glasses.

Since it opened last New Year's Eve, the multitiered R. Norman's steakhouse and 7 Sushi Lounge on Hennepin Avenue has quickly become the toast of the city's expense-account and nightlife scenes. It's the latest venture from David Koch and Randy Norman, who were also partners in Bellanotte—the first place in town to offer the sort of two-in-one upscale dining/late-night scene you find in larger cities. R. Norman's and 7 are the next iteration of the same concept—exploding it into two restaurants, four levels, three DJs, and a roof deck. While Bellanotte still attracts its share of T-Wolves lapping up post-game cocktails (I recently sat close enough to Rashad McCants to read his neck tattoo), it also has its share of high school prom dates and balding men in crew-neck sweaters. The crowd's a little more New Jersey compared to 7's Manhattan.

During the week, both R. Norman's and 7 attract a lot of professionals winding down after work or taking out clients. Upstairs, it's the creative class trading in ideas: tech startups wooing recruits, ad teams in town presenting concepts, PR divas. Downstairs at R. Norman's, with black-and-white Rat Pack photos on the walls and smooth jazz on the stereo, it's a more conservative crowd, with lots of men in suits. The lawyers, accountants, and financial analysts tucked into booths are the sort that seal deals with handshakes—not the man-hugging going on upstairs.

After the weekend dinner rush dies down, 7 turns into a nightclub, with waiters yanking tables to make room for the six-deep crowds at the bar. On the Friday night I visited, the restaurant's duality was apparent as soon as I approached the hostess, who was in a club-ready, low-cut shirt and spiky heels, and was checking herself out in a hand mirror. Her business cards, along with those of the other hostesses, were on display so patrons might...request more information about the restaurant? Ask them out? I'm not sure. The restaurant has a dress code, too, which we found to be uniformly enforced, as my friend was gently asked to remove her winter cap before being seated.

We grabbed the last two spots at the sushi bar and surveyed the crowd, which was more mature (mostly 30s and 40s) and more stylish than you find at most clubs downtown—yet not necessarily more conservative. There was enough fur trim and animal prints to stage a performance of the Lion King. One woman's skirt was so short I think I saw cheek.

Norman and Koch originally planned on the second restaurant having a Latin theme, but seeing as sushi has become yuppie Lean Cuisine (I overheard the young woman next to me say, offhandedly, "I have a line item in my budget for sushi."), they wisely switched it up. The sushi at 7 is good enough to make people happy but not so good as to be distracting. The restaurant serves a basic array of nigiri, sashimi, and Americanized specialty rolls (including one wrapped in thinly sliced strawberry), and I enjoyed every bite I tried. The ruby block of fatty tuna tasted as deep and meaty as a rare steak (though I couldn't help but worry it contained a thermometer's worth of mercury). The Dragon, Rainbow, and Spider rolls—the ones stuffed with three kinds of fish and vegetables inside the rice, and three more on the outside—were respectable renditions of smorgasbord-style maki.

From the appetizer list, I liked the tako su, a tangle of purple octopus tentacles in a bowl of vinaigrette-soaked, wafer-thin cucumbers. The tentacles had a pleasant, calamari-like chewiness and a mild, clean flavor; garnished with delicate carrot, radish, and lemon slices, it made for a pretty springtime salad. The hamachi kama— fish cheeks, served as, essentially, a portion of the fish's "neck," replete with fins, skin, and bone—was another delight. It's a little messy to pick out the juicy flesh, fatty with flavor, but it's worth the extra effort.

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