Raku and Pairings fit right in in western suburbs

One is Japanese and the other favors a "total meal concept"

Much like the words "bed" and "bug" or "Tim Pawlenty" and "president," the words "tuna" and "pizza" really have no business being placed together, especially at a Japanese restaurant. Raw tuna—the stuff that hasn't been cooked, flaked, and swamped by mayonnaise—tastes best with a delicate foil, the edible equivalent of those space blankets marathon runners wrap up in after races. Pairing tuna sashimi with a pizza crust, then, to stick with the analogy, would be like smothering the fish with a down comforter. You miss all the subtlety.

So when I noticed tuna pizza on the menu at Raku, the new Japanese restaurant in Edina, of course I had to place my order. Theirs is fashioned in the style of the ones served at Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's restaurants, in that they substitute a stack of wafer-thin scallion pancakes for the typical pillowy dough. The crust is almost phyllo-like: light, crispy, and fried in oil so the layers are slightly charred. And it's just the right thing to launch a bite layered with tuna, shredded crab, and pureed avocado.

The most surprising thing about Raku is that it didn't arrive sooner. How is it that 50th and France, a commercial node noted for its trendy, thick-walleted shoppers, didn't have a sushi bar already? "We've been waiting for a Japanese restaurant to come to Edina for 20 years," a neighbor remarked upon visiting.

Does that come with cheesy bread? The tuna pizza at Raku
Daniel Corrigan
Does that come with cheesy bread? The tuna pizza at Raku

Location Info


Raku Restaurant

3939 W. 50th St.
Edina, MN 55424

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Edina


3939 W. 50th St., Edina
952.358.2589; www.rakumn.comappetizers $5-$14; entrées $13-$28

Pairings Food & Wine Market
6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka
952.426.0522; www.pairingsfoodandwine.comappetizers priced per pound; entrées $7-$20

The restaurant is tucked between the movie theater and the Lunds parking lot, in one of those nondescript buildings you visit once or twice a year to get your teeth cleaned or your eyes checked. The dining room is fairly compact, with booths along the front windows, next to the sushi bar, and a cocktail counter at the opposite end. The decor—filmy orange curtains and tabletops that look like stony river bottoms—is neither too traditional nor too far-out. The same might be said of the menu, which combines classic Japanese fare with a few playful fusion options.

Raku offers all the standard-issue California rolls, hamachi sashimi, and those tasty pork-filled dumplings called gyoza. For $6, the Tatsua Age is a nice appetizer to share, chunks of lightly fried chicken piled up like tender pebbles that are easy to snatch with a chopstick. Noodle dishes are priced a little higher than typical, at $13 to $17, but they arrive in bowls twice as big as expected; those with smaller appetites might have a second meal's worth of leftovers. The Nabe Yaki Udon has a rich broth and chewy noodles that get tangled up in bites of chicken, slices of slippery mushrooms, and chunks of crunchy vegetables. It's served with a couple of pieces of shrimp tempura on the side so they won't turn soggy by the time the soup hits the table.

Raku's entrées draw from the East, such as Chilean sea bass (known as mero in Japan) marinated in yuzu miso, and the West, including grilled lamb chops with goat cheese, spinach, and red wine reduction. A salmon fillet is topped with a thick layer of flaked crab and broiled so the fatty fish develops a delectable crust. The fillet is dressed with wasabi, sake, and soy sauce but served with a Latin-style side of what the menu describes as a salsa, though its ratio of tomato to avocado suggests guacamole. In any case, it's fusion that works, as does the sashimi served "new style," which pairs a fan of thin strips of striped bass with a pile of arugula and a drizzle of yuzu truffle soy sauce.

And what would a contemporary sushi spot be without "new style" maki, or super-charged specialty rolls. Among the more experimental ones, the Art of Maki dispenses with both rice and seaweed and instead wraps imitation crab, avocado, and sprouts in a thin sheet of crimson tuna, to stunning visual effect. (The flavors were very good, but they would have been better with real crab.) Another roll, the Playboy, tries to rely a little too much on charisma, as it comes wrapped in aluminum foil with the plate set on fire. I was told the technique is meant to warm the sauce and melt it onto the roll, but I couldn't recognize the benefit. Thankfully, the gratuitous fire isn't an attempt to mask insubstantial flavor. The roll is stuffed with tempura shrimp, asparagus, and spicy tuna and topped with more shrimp and a swipe of mayonnaise and chili sauces.

Raku's unique fruit-filled maki make for another daring combination. The fried banana roll, sprinkled with sesame seeds, is a warm, sweet comfort, reminiscent of a sticky rice dessert, as the seaweed's flavor is barely detectable. The kitchen might consider offering coconut milk for dipping in lieu of soy sauce—because those are two words that should definitely not be paired with banana.

FORGET KRISPY KREME AND SONIC: The next hot fast-food franchise is going to look like Pairings, the all-in-one deli, café, and wine shop in a Minnetonka shopping strip just off Highway 62 and Shady Oak Road. The owners don't call Pairings a restaurant but a "total meal concept," drawing neighboring residents and office workers, plus the commuters who race past on the busy crosstown thoroughfare. It's a place where guests can dine in, take out, or shop for groceries or alcoholic beverages—or do all four in one visit. It's a liquor store, deli, pizza shop, salad bar, café, and bakery all in one. Places like France 44 or Yum Kitchen and Bakery have similar all-in-one setups, but Pairings takes the concept furthest.

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