In the true spirit of Japanese cooking, where less is more and chefs are specialists not generalists, Pink U has transformed a sliver of real estate into something altogether different for northeast Minneapolis' dining scene.
John Sugimura is a big guy with a big personality who comes out from behind the counter to assist you with your menu choices. He's the guy taking your money, he's the guy refilling your water glasses, he's the guy cooking the food. He's the guy.
His partner is Xiaoteng Huang, and the two have taken just 1,000 square feet of space total including the kitchen (if you're anything like me, that's bigger than your apartment) and utterly transformed it into a fast-casual sushi restaurant with gravitas.
You'll notice first the menu, a beautiful work of art in itself. Wooden slats are etched with menu items and prices and hung on dowels. They're easily changable for what's new, what's good, what's fresh.
In fact, it's all good and it's all fresh, and we love this place because with just 10 menu items they manage something more satisfying than all the city's caterpillar rolls lined up in a row.
The two men met over their love of sushi. Sugimura taught classes in that culinary art and Xiaoteng wound up at one of them. They both wanted a true community hub with great food at fair prices, and so far they've nailed it.
After the menu, you'll notice the price points stamped upon them: $4, $5.50, $6.50 — we didn't spot anything over $8, and it's all inspiring enough to tempt one to order the whole menu. But Sugimura warned against it. "I think you're overestimating your appetite." Maybe.
For big appetites, consider about five menu items, or for a drinking snack, possibly three. The place is great for both, and when they open for lunch around August 6, Pink U may arrive at its very best use of all: a quick midday bite.
Sugimura boasts that they can get food to the table in about eight minutes and we believe him. In less time than it took to finish a half glass of wine (a feat I can accomplish very quickly indeed), we were presented with sort of a cross between a lunch tray and a bento box of delights, all shiny, colorful, and great.
The kitchen doesn't cling to tradition except when it counts. A little spicy tuna on crispy rice was sort of a rock 'n' roll version of sushi. The rice pads are seared until crisp and topped with the kind of seasoned tartare that would usually be tucked into a spicy tuna roll.
Seared pot stickers are improved mightily by the addition of a ginger garlic sauce with chile and scallion. They're unlike any potstickers we've ever had before, and some of the best.
We could have eaten with a spoon the crispy onions with citrus soy that accompanied the yellowtail, even without the pristine and abundant slivers of fish. The whole of it is an absolute steal at just $7.
Every item here looks designed and situated with mise-en-place (everything in its place) in mind. Transparent boxes contain nori and kombu, stainless steel bowls hold garlic and onion, and a pane of observation glass allows diners to see just what's happening with their food, an inherent imperative of a true sushi bar.
Only here, it's looks a little different. Different, but great.
20 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis