"Questions on anything so far?"
This is a standard line in the diner-server dialogue, but especially at a restaurant where the dishes are made up of tongue-twister ingredients.
"Can I just ask," says one hesitant patron at the table next to ours. "What's the deal with the ... hot dogs?"
Under normal circumstances we would be inclined to think a sausage in a bun is pretty self-explanatory, but it's a fair question to ask, this being a sushi bar.
"Oh, well they kind of go with our baseball theme," the server replies matter-of-factly.
From our particular vantage point, all we can see are some hanging Japanese screens; a few specials boards listing types of nigiri; silky, abstract light fixtures that mimic the movement of swimming fish; and a countertop case stocked with pristine filets of Skuna Bay salmon, fresh Yellowtail from Southern California, and meaty mackerel with its gleaming, silvery skin. It seems to be every inch the standard neighborhood sushi joint, so the follow-up question also seems fair: "What baseball theme?"
Hide Tozawa, head chef at Kyatchi, which means "catch" in Japanese, is not only a baseball fanatic himself but also used to be the personal chef of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, noted player for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan and known to locals as a member of the Minnesota Twins for the 2011-12 season. After a glance to the left toward the giant, baseball-themed mural we'd somehow missed on our way in and a look skyward to see the Japanese jerseys strung up near the ceiling, we finally got the hint.
Baseball and sushi might go together in our minds like, well, hot dogs and sushi, but don't let the unlikely pair deter you: Order a hot dog. Specifically, order the House Dog, a long and thin, spicy, snappy sausage made by Peterson Limousin Farms that is topped with a salad of raw carrots, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes, all cut into miniscule cubes, and finished with a squiggle of the all-important Kewpie mayo, a tart, pale yellow Japanese mayonnaise. Kyatchi serves the dogs with a dollop of Japanese potato salad, a sort of cold mashed potato mixture textured with cucumbers and carrots. It's an interesting concept, but the execution was underwhelming. The sorely under-seasoned salad was a sobering reminder that it's hard to get down with cold, bland mashed potatoes.
But seafood is what this Kim Bartmann-affiliated spot touts, specifically sustainably sourced, high quality fish and fruits de mer, and that's what most people seemed to be there for, though it's not strictly sushi they're serving. "We aren't thinking of ourselves as a sushi restaurant per se; we offer a range of items that you would find at a traditional Izakaya restaurant," says Bartmann. "That said, vegetable sushi is delicious, and it's an easy way for us to offer more variety given that our fish selections are mostly driven by the seasons."
It's true. The selection of rolls here is not what you'd expect, or at least not what we, as Americans living in a gilded age of cheap, accessible, anything-goes sushi, expect in a hand roll. There's no eel sauce, no tempura-fried business, and no spicy tuna in sight. The special rolls are simple and tend to highlight a single ingredient; the majority are actually vegetarian, such as the pickled plum with shiso leaf, the avocado, or the marinated calabash squash.
"At first glance, the maki section of the menu may appear nontraditional," says chef Tozawa. "But our thought was to present a maki list that adheres more closely to what is found in sushi restaurants in Japan." Part of that authentic offering is pressed sushi or oshizushi, which is available elsewhere in the Twin Cities, but is still relatively new to the scene. This rectangular morsel is heavy on the rice, but Kyatchi's sushi rice earns the spotlight; it's firm and just the right amount of sticky. One particularly Nordic variety was lovely and bright with cured salmon, slices of lemon, and baubles of roe. "The oshizushi I prepare happens to be a favorite of Tsuyoshi Nishioka," Tozawa continues. "But I would say that I was also inclined to offer oshizushi because I believe it's been overlooked."
In the tradition of Izakaya, Kyatchi also offers some snack-sized small plates. We loved the subtle, nearly raw chopped scallops dressed with faintly floral yuzu and crisp microgreens, though the $13 price tag did seem a little steep for the portion. The agedashi dofu, quivering cubes of deep-fried tofu, were cut much too large to really get crisp. Instead a thin skin formed on the outside and left the middle of the pieces gelatinous. It's a hard dish to share, too, but the shiitake-infused dashi it's served with is earthy and delicious.
While the sushi, hot dogs, and simple grilled skewers of pork belly with yakitori or flash-grilled beef tenderloin sprinkled with sea salt were all winners, things started to fall apart a bit in the rice and noodles section of the menu. A pork belly ramen with soft-boiled egg and spring onion was mostly unmemorable with undercooked noodles and broth that could use some punching up. A bowl of brown rice tsukune donburi was quite satisfying, with small, soft-textured chicken meatballs, a poached egg, and plenty of scallions for pungency, but far too much salty sauce pooled at the bottom of the bowl and made it hard to finish. We were excited to try the inaniwa udon, a linguini-like wheat noodle from Akita, but the brothy bowl arrived lukewarm and the chicken floating in it was confoundingly dry. (Still, if there is any mushroom cuter than the inaniwa udon's nameko mushroom, it deserves its own Instagram account.)
Dessert was more creative and thoughtful than one expects from a typical sushi or Izakaya restaurant. The black sesame butterscotch pudding was smooth and well balanced, but would benefit if the black sesame flavor came through in anything other than the pudding's color. Green tea-dusted mini donuts were a fun, tart take on the carnival classic and were made fresh to order, but lacked that melt-in-the-mouth lightness of perfectly fried dough.
Residents in this neck of the woods are bearing witness to the revival of 38th and Nicollet. This intersection has always been flush with great dining options, from Blackbird to Cocina Latina, but with the arrival of Kyatchi, a new energy is coursing through it. With some fine-tuning, this could be the new go-to spot for responsible, sustainable sushi and seafood, or for hotdogs and happy hour. Or both.