Roll Playing

A little elegance goes a long way. That being the case, the elegant sushi eatery Bagu should be taken seriously on looks alone: The chic and podlike main dining room evokes trendy Brooklyn more than south Minneapolis, and the outdoor dining area is a tranquil and sleekly styled retreat.

For those more concerned with a great meal than good looks, Bagu's beauty is more than skin deep. Every sushi joint worth its wasabi has at least one strength. It could be the quality of fish. It could be economy. Or it could be, as it is with Bagu, creative rolls—colorful apparitions conjured out of standard sushi mixed with spicy marinades, savory mayo-based sauces, and ingredients such as tempura flakes, herbs, and cream cheese.

When crafting a showboat roll, it can be hard to pin down a well-balanced blend of ingredients. Many restaurants kill their $14 treasures by crushing the taste of fresh fish under fatty or creamy ingredients. Bagu manages to walk the tightrope, showing off without losing sight of the original appeal of sushi, the fish itself.

The sunrise roll ($13.95) is a real delight. A combination of seared tuna, grated ginger, and shiso (a slightly anise-tasting herb) wrapped with mango, the sunrise roll bounces the rich tuna flavor off of a triumphant final flourish of fruit. The French kiss roll ($13.50) is even more of a gamble, combining crab, avocado, asparagus, and cream cheese, topped off with cooked shrimp. The crab meat is shredded, so the overall texture is creamy, almost silken, with just the cool snap of asparagus as a counterpoint. And the shrimp tempura roll ($8.95, $5 during happy hour) is low-key but competently executed.

New to Bagu's menu, and well worth noting, are the familiar and comforting "pan-fried dishes," ranging from $11.75 to $14.75. Approximating Thai or Chinese cooking, the pan-fried dishes are an intriguing direction for what is otherwise a distinctly Japanese-inspired restaurant. The Thai noodle pan fry is quite close to a pad Thai, containing stir-fried rice noodles in a shrimp sauce with eggs, scallions, bean sprouts, and deeply fried, beautifully browned tofu. Though it lacks the funky depth of pad Thai from a place such as True Thai or Ruam Mit Thai, it's still a decent meal (or three, the portion is enormous). Better than the Thai noodle is the sweet and sour pan fry, which looks, at first glance, to be your typical neighborhood Chinese restaurant atrocity, albeit with slightly more veggies. The taste is actually quite well balanced—the sauce is not overly sweet and boasts a distinct and welcome tang of tomato. The chicken came out breaded, but delicately so.

With accessible and affordable options like this, Bagu isn't going to challenge Origami in the high-end sushi scene. Then again, that's not the point. The restaurant's mission is making whimsical and skillfully executed eats available to local folks, which it accomplishes with style to spare.

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4741 Chicago Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55407


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