So, you eat your sushi with your hands. Chopsticks fumble around between your fingers like skis tumbling down a hill.
Sometimes you bravely ask for a fork.
We don’t care. We also don’t care if you like cream cheese in your rolls, or mayonnaise or extra firecracker sauce and crispy tempura crumbs. You are in charge of your sushi destiny and we spit wasabi in the eye of anyone who tells you any different.
Consider that a caveat to our next statement: There is a particular joy in visiting an authentic sushi bar, with its rituals and details and, yes, rules. Slipping into the grooves cast for you by centuries of chefs feels comforting; old customs hold value, rocks of necessity pressed for generations into gems of cultural traditions.
Kado no Mise, which opened last year in the former Origami space in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis, brings us to this place. Here, we want to be better diners. More patient. Much of Japanese dining has this effect on us—the coursing of a sushi meal, the bento box’s tidy compartments—but Kado no Mise is special.
The environment, based on the Edomae-style sushi bars of Tokyo, is instantly soothing: bright and simple, bordering on the ascetic. Each meal begins with a small cup of somewhat flavorless buckwheat tea, an oddity in almost any other dining room. But here, having just wiped your hands clean on your freshly steamed towel, it feels natural, even necessary. You’ll want to cleanse your palate of the noise of the outside world, and if you crammed an Egg McMuffin into your face on the drive to work, you’ll want to cleanse that, too.
Without question, the best way to enjoy Kado no Mise is to sit at the sushi bar (open to walk-ins, though also available for reservations) and ask for the omakase. You will be putting your trust in the chef, who will serve you, dish by dish, a sampling of the kitchen’s finest, though we were able to suggest a price limit (the omakase can run all the way up to $200 per person), and choose a mix of cold and hot plates.
Our chef, Jeff, who was younger than we expected, surprised us even further by turning to the kitchen and speaking fluently in Japanese.
“My mom is Japanese,” he explained. “She made us learn to speak it.”
In fact, we noticed a far greater number of Japanese employees and diners than we typically see in the Twin Cities. At the risk of leaning on that dining cliché of eating where the experts do, we found this a good omen.
After the buckwheat tea, our meal began with an amuse bouche of salmon with a wakame and cucumber salad, followed immediately by the first plate: a seabream liver pâté marinated in sake, mirin, and soy. Fish liver is a delightful combination of the rich, buttery texture of foie gras, with a slight fish oil flavor in lieu of the metallic hints you find in land-based offal. Before the deluge of nigiri, we were served a tiny bowl of a Kado no Mise menu staple, Chawanmushi. A savory egg custard with king crab, gingko nuts, and mushrooms, it’s simple and charming, and wholly unlike anything we’d eaten before. You can also find it during happy hour with a generous pour of sake for $14.
The sushi that followed is some of the best we’ve had in the Twin Cities, sequenced from lighter to stronger flavors, as one might do with cheeses or wines. Fluke with chili, chives, and ponzu led to charred Japanese barracuda, which was followed by salt-cured horse mackerel topped with ginger; each piece was carefully assembled and explained by our chef before being handed to us. We were so enthralled with the melt-in-your-mouth Toro (fatty bluefin tuna) that we ordered it in roll form, with green onion. You should do the same.
The omakase concludes with a bowl of udon noodle soup, a straightforward but satisfying end to a stream of raw dishes. Desserts are not the focus here, but we were happily surprised when a bowl of “sorbets” landed on the counter. More the flaky, crystalline texture of granita, the sake and green tea flavored ices were only mildly sweet, a fitting cap to an evening of thoughtful flavors.
The sense of dining as meditation only heightens in the upstairs dining room, where a more formal kaiseki, or traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, is offered. The reservations-only meal draws inspiration from the Japanese tea ceremony, with beautiful dishes that reflect the seasons, all orchestrated by chef Shigeyuki Furukawa. The kaiseki is only available on Friday and Saturday after 5 p.m., and you’ll spend several hours working your way through the 10 courses.
Adjacent to the kaiseki, a dark cocoon of a whisky bar called Gori Gori Peku is open to any and all, no reservations required. Sink into a leather chair and bask in the very low glow of the backlit bar while you find your new favorite Japanese whisky. The menu is a sprawling list of spirits, served straight or mixed into a simple cocktail.
As for the drinks downstairs, sake is predictably the focus, with 13 selections available by the glass or carafe. By contrast, only five beers are available, four Japanese imports in bottles or cans, and Sapporo on draft. A tidy selection of cocktails from the downstairs bar includes just five drinks developed by Dan Oskey of Tattersall Distillery.
Aside from an omakase dinner, our favorite time to call on Kado no Mise is at lunch, when the calm dining room is a welcome reprieve from the harried workday. Order the yakizakana ($16), grilled yellowtail with miso soup, delicate julienned grilled vegetables, and rice. Or try the kabocha salad with squash, mushrooms, greens, and a ginger dressing you will want to guzzle but won’t. (Better, more patient diners, remember?) Finish with tea and recognize that you deserve food that takes time and thought and attention. And the Twin Cities deserves more restaurants like Kado no Mise.
Click here to see our photo slideshow of Kado no Mise
KADO NO MISE, GORI GORI PEKU, AND KAISEKI FURUKAWA
33 First Ave. N., Minneapolis