BEST SUSHI - 2003
In the quest to figure out the answer to which sushi bar is best in this notoriously volatile category, we recently visited several top sushi spots in a single night. Origami was head and shoulders above the competition. Kohada (marinated gizzard shad) was as slight as salted smoke on the tongue, the slice of fish topped with fresh-grated ginger. The ama ebi (sweet shrimp) were so fresh and glistening you almost had to squint to see them--like trying to see water on glass. Halibut was topped with momijo oroshi, a ground daikon and chili paste combination. Astonishingly good. Jaw-droppingly good. It was quite a shock, actually, since the last few times we had gone to Origami we thought it middle of the road, at best. What gives? Turns out the former sushi chef left a year ago, and only recently have the three sushi chefs who make up the new team--A-san, Jun, and Hide (pronounced hee-day)--come into their own. It was worth the wait. Now the restaurant regularly serves never-seen-in-Minnesota treats like a whole aji (jack mackerel) served sashimi style; baigai, which are like Japanese escargots, sea snails boiled and marinated and served in their shells; and even ankimo, a monkfish liver paté. If all this surprises you, please know, too, that the restaurant just debuted a new wine list, designed by manager Christopher Barnes, who came on a year ago. Barnes says owner Kimonubi Ichikawa (whom everyone calls Ichi) looked around a year ago and wondered where all the customers had gone. Of course, they had all dispersed to the many, many new places. So he took it upon himself to revamp Origami, upgrading the quality of the sushi, the quality of the wine, and even the hot-kitchen menu, which now offers seafood like scallops grilled on the shell or disks of halibut cheek, marinated in miso, rice wine, and butter, then combined with tomatoes and three kinds of mushrooms in a memorable earthy, tangy, complicated way. It seems sort of nice, really, for Origami, one of the first local sushi bars, to become first among them again.