When Aaron Switz and Mikael Asp, owners of Agra Culture and SotaRol, purchased YUMI Japanese Restaurant & Bar in Excelsior from its longtime owner and founder in 2018, they didn’t make a lot of changes.
“We didn’t subtract from the menu,” says Anne Debeau-Melting, COO of the ownership group. “We’ve been adding and refining.”
But while many things might be staying the same in Excelsior, there has been one major shift for the restaurant: YUMI just opened a second location in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood.
The former Fabulous Fern’s space in the historic Blair Arcade has been transformed into something way more Zen, with a soothing gray and blue color palette, bonsai trees, and Japanese scrolls. A few tables are topped with paper umbrellas for a pop of color and whimsy, and a wave mural based on Hokusai’s famous woodblock print adorns the wall behind the sushi bar.
As far as the food menu, expect the same as that of the Excelsior location, featuring cooked appetizers like a delightfully sinus-clearing rock shrimp tempura, plus teriyaki and fried rice dishes, udon noodle soup, and an extensive sushi selection. (Pro tip: The gargantuan YUMI rolls are at least double the size of a standard sushi roll—don’t even try to eat more than one.)
Many of the rolls are beloved staples from YUMI’s 21-years-and-counting Excelsior run, such as the Marianne roll made with cooked snow crab and shrimp tempura; it’s named for a regular customer who requested something without raw fish. Other menu items are more recent additions, like a snappy appetizer of spicy tuna served atop crisp mounds of seasoned rice resembling nigiri.
In lieu of traditional sushi bar seating, high-top tables are nestled alongside the bar. Watching the chefs at work is a treat—sushi platters feature flourishes like daikon radish rosettes, cranes fashioned from sliced cucumbers, and tiny wasabi monsters with octopus suckers for eyes (trust us, it’s adorable).
The most notable difference from the original Excelsior restaurant is the bar program in St. Paul. Thanks to a larger bar space, there’s an impressive lineup of Japanese spirits—nearly two dozen whiskeys, plus gin, vodka, and sake—as well as 16 taps and a wine list.
YUMI’s cocktail menu features Japanese-inspired takes on the classics, like the Tokyo 75 made with Japanese gin and sparkling sake. You Only Live Twice is a lovely balance of gin, vodka, sake, elderflower, and yuzu. (Special thanks to our bartender for explaining the double Bond reference: You Only Live Twice is the sole Bond movie filmed in Japan, and the drink itself is a riff on the Vesper, a cocktail invented by Bond author Ian Fleming.)
“We’re excited about being in this neighborhood,” says Debeau-Melting, noting that the warm reception from Cathedral Hill residents is similar to the loyal following the restaurant has enjoyed in Excelsior. “This neighborhood arrives for a community restaurant—people are looking for an inviting environment.”
Speaking of an inviting environment, a 40-seat patio is in the works for spring. We’ll raise a YUMI old fashioned (made with Japanese whiskey, of course) to that.
YUMI St. Paul officially opened to the public on Monday, and happy hour and dinner are offered daily.
YUMI Japanese Restaurant & Bar
400 Selby Ave., St. Paul