The Vikings should be so lucky to have an opening lineup as starry as the one at Masu. The cash behind this game-changing restaurant is Nay Hla, owner of Eagan-based Sushi Avenue, which supplies sushi to supermarkets, colleges and corporate campuses. Hla wisely lured longtime Origami chef Katsuyuki (A-san) Yamamoto to oversee sushi operations, and he's crafting some of the most artful nigiri, sashimi and makizushi in the Twin Cities. But what really sets Masu apart is consulting chef Tim McKee. Venturing outside his comfort zone, the La Belle Vie chef has added robata to his skill set. It's a satisfying way to dine, ordering one tapas-style, one skewered and hardwood charcoal-grilled nibble after another, until your appetite is ready to cry hakufu (that's uncle in Japanese). The 30 or so grill selections cover a lot of ground, from vegetables to a half-dozen seafood items to pork and beef, most of them brushed with a ginger or miso glaze before they hit that grill. Masu really shines in the noodle soup department, with a dozen or so variations that feature soba, udon and ramen, all hand-pulled by a Los Angeles noodle maker and treated with enormous respect. The ramen -- crimped, golden, glorious -- that's paired with a slab of seductively fatty pork belly and a barely poached egg is one of the most memorable dishes currently being served in the Twin Cities. Another standout: the terrific slider-sized sandwiches. They're served at lunch only, a bummer because they could round out the evening menu's short and creative list of izakaya -- the small plates that are an integral part of Japanese pub culture.
Q&A: Alex Chase Executive chef, Masu Sushi & Robata
- How would you describe the vibe at Masu? Masu is a modern, pop-culture-style neighborhood Japanese restaurant unique to the metro, both in food and in feel.
- What is your culinary style? We bring the traditional charcoal grilling and noodle culture that's raved about in Japan to Minneapolis. We are also the first sushi restaurant to commit to a fully sustainable seafood menu.
- Favorite menu item: The pork belly ramen, although I can't seem to not eat my share of the
- Bacon-Wrapped Quail Egg Robata.
- What's your ingredient obsession? High-quality bonito flakes.
- What do you love most about cooking in Minnesota? The great chef community that has solidified over the years.
Brothers Adam and Andrew Sieve grew up in the restaurant business. Specifically, the Traveler's Inn Restaurant in Alexandria, Minn., originally owned by grandparents Ben and Helen " Hazel" Sieve. The brothers have returned to the family business, landing in Northeast and delivering comfort-food-with-a-twist at the former Pop! The brothers are serving the foods they grew up eating. Nothing fancy, but wholly satisfying and made from scratch, a mind-set that can be summed up in a single dish: a magnificent open-faced turkey sandwich built with a mountain of succulent dark and white roasted bird, a pile of mashed potatoes and a slice of thick-cut white bread. The whole shebang is smothered in a rich, just-like-Mom-made gravy, with a side of orange-accented cranberry sauce. It's $10, and it seems impossible that it could be consumed by someone in a single seating. There's also a well-seasoned and expertly braised pulled pork sandwich, a half-dozen variations on the burger and a host of salads. Breakfast swings from feisty black bean cakes topped with poached eggs to granola pancakes topped with fruit compote, and dinner includes tasty ground lamb skewers paired with a cucumber-tomato relish, a plate of Swedish meatballs (a Pop! classic, reborn) and a daily risotto. The sweet-sweet-sweet desserts' most notable qualities are their ample proportions. The cute space is peppered with eye-catching works by local artists, most prices fall under $10 and service epitomizes Minnesota Nice. Hazel would probably have demanded nothing less.