The wee northeast Minneapolis restaurant PinkU has had an outsized effect on how we think about sushi.
No longer does it have to be expensive, unapproachable, or the stuff of special occasion. John Sugimura and his partner X Huang took all of the notions that make sushi feel difficult or out-of-reach and set about changing them.
The result is a sushi restaurant that is as affordable and easygoing as it is delicious.
But they’re not done. Not by a long shot. Sugimura has just returned from an epic eating and research tour of Japan, and came back armed with an epic roster of potstickers to add to his menu. It's an endeavor that’s very near and dear to the chef’s heart.
“When someone gives you a dumpling in Japan, it’s extending the hand of hospitality. It’s like a big hug. If a Buddhist monk or a geisha gives you one, it’s like they are embracing you. It’s more than just some pork in a skin.”
Without further ado, each and every new PinkU dumpling, in no particular order:
A deep-fried pork pot sticker garnished with “creamy radish,” a preparation of grated radish with the liquid squeezed out and then folded back in. Also finished with ponzu (soy and citrus). Sugimura had a version of these at a 400-year-old restaurant in Gion, a district of Kyoto, where geishas are the servers and the potstickers go for a couple of bucks. “There are [just a few] tables and there’s a line out the door all day long.”
This dumpling is about layering stuff on top of a pork dumpling, like Japanese mayo, bonito, and a tangy sauce that “mirrors barbecue sauce,” in that it's both salty and sweet. There’s a famous food vendor in Kyoto who sells them “down by the river.”
“Imagine, not even a cart. Just an umbrella that they can open in case it rains, and everything else is on the floor in front of an open fire. A hundred and seventy-five people in line at all times. I went through the line twice. If anything, they’re cooking them faster than people can get through the line.”
Everyone just crouches down and devours them on the spot. “Imagine it like this,” he says to me, getting down into the position.
Shrimp and Mountain Yam
“You should get to know mountain yam because you’ll love it and you can use it anywhere you use a starch.” (The long tuber can be found in most Asian groceries, and he’s right, it’s about as versatile as the common potato.)
The yam is shredded until it gets to be a foamy consistency, and then blended with shrimp ground into three textures— fine, medium, and coarse. It’s served with a tempura-style dipping sauce with daikon radish and ginger.
Shiitake Mushroom and Onion
“Just woody, crunchy, and vegan.” Also served with the tempura sauce.
The chef calls this a more “contemporary” potsticker, and it was the sleeper hit of the bunch in my opinion. The tofu filling has the consistency of marshmallows, tinged with a bit of sesame oil for umami.
Sugimura ate a similar version in a Buddhist temple, and it’s served with a “momigi oroshi” sauce, which he calls a purer version of Sriracha.
“It’s easier to get now, but I used to have to pay $40 shipping for a $2 bottle. It was one of those things that was like, 'Will you please bring this back with you from your trip?'”
If you’ve been holding your breath through this whole lineup, rest assured, the signature potsticker, the one the restaurant opened with, isn’t going anywhere.
They're griddled on one side to create a bit of char and a lot of crisp, and filled with pork, garlic, ginger, and soy. They’re great.
Get the new menu on a rotating basis. The tofu and shiitake, along with the signature, will be available at all times. The others? You gotta go to know.
20 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis