When we talk about the Twin Cities as an emerging world-class dining scene, what we really mean is that we have an emerging national-class dining scene. And even then, it might be somewhat wrong-headed to compare ourselves to other big dining towns (New York, San Francisco, even Portland) because these comparisons are lumping together apples and anvils and puppy dogs. We are our own thing, as are they, and we should be happy with that.
But now that Ramen Kazama has sprouted up in south Minneapolis, it might be time to reconsider that world-class designation.
The Twin Cities have been woefully underserved when it comes to How Japanese People Really Eat, which is such a shame because that dazzling culture is reflected so remarkably in the cuisine. Cut-rate sushi, or even high-end sushi is only the tip of the 'berg where it comes to this complex cooking tradition.
Japanese native Matthew Kazama had been working as a sushi chef for about a decade at Fuji Ya, one of Minneapolis' longest-standing sushi restaurants. But he missed a basic, yet universal Japanese birthright: the ramen shop.
He began a weekly ramen program at Fuji-Ya, to much fanfare, but it wasn't the same, was it, to not be able to do this daily? To scootch up on a stool, and bury one's face in a steamy bowl, commiserating, just yourself and the noodles, willing them to cool with every slurp? No, there was only one thing left to do and that was to open a proper ramen shop. Just ramen, no sushi, and a few small drinking snacks to go with big mugs of Sapporo.
The interior of the space is all stripped down, rock-and-roll hip. Nothing too fancy, nothing extra, just drum kits repurposed into light fixtures, naked bulbs hanging down like observant eyeballs, chefs in black T's working with the focused precision all of this takes, and you, sake in hand wondering how the hell all of this happened, seemingly overnight.
But before you become too awed, remember that we've been deprived of all of this for far too long. At this point, we should come to think of it as our birthright. After all, Kazama says he left Japan and landed here to pursue the American Dream. We're so glad he did because this is what our eating dreams are made of.
3400 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis