We stopped in last night at Musashi, the new Japanese restaurant in the former Olive Garden space at 6th and Hennepin, downtown, and took a seat at the sushi bar.
When I asked for omakase, the sushi chef who greeted us gave me a puzzled look.
“Teppanyaki?,” he asked – or something that sounded like that.
“No, “I said, “omakase.”
“We don’t have that.”
Just then, a second sushi chef, Noua, overheard our conversation, and stepped in: “I can do that. How many courses do you want? How much do you want to spend? Four courses? Five?
Omakase means, roughly, “chef’s choice,” and when I have tried this gambit before, the results have ranged from spectacular (Fuji-ya in Saint Paul,) to the same stuff we could have ordered from the menu.
We never did agree on a price, but a series of off the menu dishes started to arrive, starting with a pair of martini glasses, filled with chunks of raw tuna and salmon with thin slices of cucumber in a soy marinade . The novelty of this dish was the fake ice cube at the bottom of each glass, each with a little blinking light that changed colors from to blue to green. (Actually, mine was stuck on blue.)
Round two was four pieces of raw salmon wrapped around spears of fresh mango, served over leaves of aromatic Japanese chrysanthemum. partially cooked with a blow torch by the first sushi chef, presented with a mound of shredded daikon at the center, topped with a little dollop of lumpfish caviar. Buried beneath the daikon was another light cube, again flashing red, blue and green. A little less novel this time, but still an attractive presentation.
Continued advertisement Sesame Street Live
Then came a third course – a sort of seafood medley covered in a spicy mayonnaise the color of Thousand Island dressing, dappled with orange flying fish row. Actually quite tasty.
And for the grand finale, four little rice balls wrapped in eel and white tuna, again presented with a flashing litecube by chef #1. This was, he informed us, “French-style sushi.”
I have never seen anything like it in France, but the phrase, French-style sushi rang a bell. The last place I went that offered “French-style sushi” was the Mt. Fuji in Maple Grove, which serves up neon day-glo fantasies on the theme of sushi far more elaborate than anything dreamed of in the land of the rising sun. The chefs at Mt. Fuji are Chinese, as are the owners of Musashi, and Wasabi, which opened last year near the Metrodome.
It turns out that Minneapolis may be part of a global trend. According to a December 2006 report from Agence France-Presse, an estimated 90 percent of all the Japanese-style restaurants in France are Chinese-owned.
So I asked sushi chef #1 where he was from, and he said, China. “Are you all from China?” I asked. “We’re from Asia,” sushi chef #3 offered, helpfully. “Not me, ” shouted out Noua, in perfect English ” I’m from Saint Paul.”
Overall, some of the off-the-menu omakase dishes were pretty good, some of it was just okay, and mostly it was kind of weird. It certainly didn’t seem very Japanese, but maybe that’s okay. Neither is teppanyaki, really, nor California rolls. I did see a lot of “normal” sushi come out of the sushi bar while we were dining, and it looked the same as it does everywhere else.
Bottom line: dinner with the four omakase dishes and a spicy tuna roll, plus tax, tip, and a couple of drinks apiece came to just under $120.