Written by Sarah Boyd, WCCO, April 17, 2011
A new restaurant opening Monday in northeast Minneapolis has seemingly found the ideal balance of attracting opposites.
Masu Sushi and Robata boasts of traditional cuisine in a modern setting, combines a touch of sophistication with a nod to playful Japanese youth culture and dances from casual to chic depending on the diner’s mood.
Upon first impressions, the restaurant is truly something to behold. Sleek lines, bold colors and somewhat kitschy decorations take you straight into a modern Asian atmosphere, complete with iconic touches of Japanese culture. A pair of mysterious eyes from a Geisha model fills the back wall of the main dining area, stretching the length of the room. (Sidenote: The lovely model who lent her deep stare to the wall’s décor stopped by Saturday to see the finished product. And a film-strip-like collage of all her poses can be seen on the wall leading into the stylish restrooms.)
A tall, curved sushi bar immediately greets guests with seats up to 10 and transitions nicely into the main bar, where a long list of specialty cocktails and large variety of sake awaits your selection (more on that in a bit).
With an arsenal of talent in the kitchen — and behind the concept — Masu offers more than your typical Japanese cuisine. James Beard award-winning Chef Tim McKee has taken a contemporary approach to help craft a menu bursting with noodles, robata and sushi. With the help of 15-year Origami veteran Chef Alex Chase leading the way, the sushi is both inventive and bold.
Offerings at a Saturday night reception to celebrate the forthcoming opening saw delicate pieces of salmon garnished beautifully with thin slices of lime, a tuna-topped rice ball packed with flavor and classic spicy tuna with a kick of chili sauce and burdock, finished with smooth avocado.
Flipping over to the kitchen and onto the open-flame, wood charcoal grill, an open window allows guests to get a sneak peek (and wafting scent) of the charred, skewered goodness inside. The Nasu, a Japanese eggplant glazed with sweet miso, is an absolute must. It’ll make you reassess everything you thought you knew about grilled veggies.
Yet the shining star of the robata menu came down to the two magical words that nearly brought a tear to my eye — bacon roll. Not just one, but several. The Uzura Bacon Maki is a rich and creamy combination of quail egg and the salty, crisp deliciousness and the Kinukoshi wraps up tofu in a little bacon bundle. Both make a tasty bite, though I have to give the upper hand to the Uzura — the creamy center of the quail egg is cooked to perfection.
Other small tastings, including the tender pork belly and juicy aged rib eye, were the perfect tease to the extensive robata menu offerings and its wide selection for any appetite.
But, of course, all of these dishes are only amplified when washed down with a signature cocktail, crafted and designed by none other than Johnny Michaels, La Belle Vie’s one-of-a-kind mixologist. Michaels has some simply stunning concoctions, from the bold to the subtle and refreshing — all complete with a hilarious east-meets-west moniker.
The Godzillita! — a spicy ginger plum margarita — is as big as its name implies. A punch of tequila is amplified by a coating of sharp black-pepper on the rim and a kick of spicy ginger, one that takes a second or two to really sink in. At first the flavor takes you by surprise but once you sink into that green monster, the so-called beast is quite lovely.
For a tad more tickle, try the double precious, a drink so sweet and bubbly you’d swear it was too innocent to contain any actual alcohol. This martini mixes sparkling jasmine gin and elderflower for a treat for the eyes and the tastebuds.
Looking to satisfy the child inside? Order up some Gummi Shochu Sours, which come complete with a little gummi bear garnish. The Blushing Gummi, a violet lavender concoction, awakens all your senses and tastes just like summer in a glass. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Secret Gummi — an ever-changing special revealed by your server or, for the truly daring, poured for your taste-test guessing.
His Majesty Emperor Albert, a plum tea Collins, is incredibly refreshing with just the right amount of lemony sweetness. Or for the grapefruit lovers, get the Tragic Story of Youth — a mix of gin, Campari and slightly salty grapefruit juice. The sea salt here makes all the difference.
I also found it quite comical that should you have the cajones to order something boring and lame, a la Captain and coke, you are forced to call it by its Masu name “I Have Committed A Great Rudeness.”
Though the night barely scraped the surface of Masu’s menu (there’s also an extensive noodles menu, featuring soba, udon, ramen –yes, ramen — or yakisoba) it was still a nice sampling of what’s on its way to becoming a Northeast hot spot — and it hasn’t even opened yet.