Kado no Mise in Downtown Minneapolis
It’s a good time to be a fan of Japanese food in the Twin Cities. Tanpopo’s closing notwithstanding, the cuisine has boomed in recent years, from Kyatchi to Ramen Kazama to Tori Ramen. Each new restaurant adds a new vocabulary to the conversation started decades ago by Fuji-ya. Kado no Mise (33 1st Ave N, Minneapolis) brings an elegance and an understated, almost minimalist eloquence to the conversation. It might almost feel muted if you’re used to speaking at the volume of sriracha mayonnaise and Philly rolls.
The clean, bright interior of the restaurant, with its white tile and light-colored wood, is immediately striking. The long and narrow space — with an alcohol bar anchoring one end and a sushi bar with views of the kitchen anchoring the other — feels warm and inviting, despite the antiseptically beautiful design. We’ll credit that to the friendly service and the wonderful smells of the food you’re about to eat.
The food is similarly elegant and understated, almost muted, if you aren’t paying attention. For lunch, we tried seven of the eight flavors of Temari. Essentially nigiri, temari (named for balls made of decorative thread) feature slices of fish or vegetables wrapped around the top of a dense ball of rice. Seven pieces of sushi plus a bowl of miso soup went for $16, which seemed fair for the quantity and quality of the food served.
As for the flavor of Kado no Mise’s temari — in a word, they’re “mild.” When they work, the retiring flavor combinations are mellow and ethereal. When they don’t, they’re merely sedate, with the rice dominating. Not coincidentally, our two favorite tastes were the most profound: the funky, salty earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms, and the minty, slightly astringent bite of the shiso leaf. We’ve never tasted anything quite like rice wrapped in shiso, and if nothing else, it’s an intriguing contribution to the local flavor conversation.
The Yakiniku Don (marinated beef rice bowl, $9.50) was rich and savory, the meat tender and flavorful. Unlike many of our favorite rice bowls, it didn’t pack a great diversity of spicy/crunchy/creamy/otherwise-diverse flavor and textural elements — this is a rice bowl designed to soothe, not entertain, but it did its job admirably well.
While lunch at Kado no Mise left us content but not awed, we adored dinner, where the restaurant’s subtle strengths are more apparent and more slowly enjoyed. Dinner service started with a cup of chilled barley tea, a small and simple offering, with flavors of minerals and wheat and a pronounced aroma of sesame, that laid out what we eventually discerned to be the restaurant’s mission statement: the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity, all thoughtfully prepared and elegantly served. The pickles and surf clam appetizer that followed was equally remarkable for uniting disparate ingredients by drawing out their similar, earthy flavors. It may be a little esoteric, but indulge us: at Kado no Mise, simplicity emerges from complexity and vice versa.
Ebi Shiso Age ($12) was four pieces of blue prawn wrapped in shiso leaf and wonton and fried to perfection. The shiso, with an herbaceous flavor that is somewhere between basil and mint, was visible beneath the bubbly crisp wrapper, and the prawns were pink and springy. Together, the dish has a spring-roll-like flavor. With four pieces, it felt like a happy-hour bargain.
As they set down the Agedashi Tofu ($9), an abundance of bonito flakes quivered in the steam rising from the dashi broth. The tofu had a Brielike consistency and a slightly funky taste, and it blended beautifully with the smoky broth. A shishito pepper and a pile of thinly sliced green onion rounded out the flavors to create a masterpiece of a dish.
The Chawanmushi ($10) is egg custard in dashi broth with chopped chives. Ground chicken added a slightly gamy flavor, and sweet-corn kernels gave an initially puzzling crunch. In a egg-shaped stoneware dish with a removable lid, it’s a spectacle to be enjoyed slowly, and the tiny spoon leaves you no choice.
Chasoba ($12) is available in warm or chilled broth. We visited on a rainy, autumnlike evening, and the warm broth was perfect for taking the chill off. Though the ingredients were similar to our previous dishes (smoky dashi broth, hints of sesame, green onion), the cluster of tempura vegetables served on the side and the chasoba noodles, made with green tea powder in addition to buckwheat and wheat flour, made it a variation on a theme, rather than more of the same. To fault Kado no Mise for using too much bonito would be like faulting an Italian restaurant because tomatoes kept showing up.
Cooked in a Japanese cast iron vessel called a hagama, Kamameshi ($18 for two, $32 for four) is comfort food, by another name. The hagama is brought to the table dangerously hot, with its contents stirred tableside and plated by the server. Akin to risotto or biryani, sticky short-grain rice, savory chicken, and earthy burdock created a full meal in a dish that was rich without heaviness and flavorful without being overwhelmingly salty. This dish again felt like a lot of food for the price.
We sat at the sushi bar, and after repeatedly watching the chef ceremoniously pull out the metal box of fish, remove some, slice it, and lay it across mounds of rice, we ordered two pieces of nigiri: Beni Sake (sockeye salmon, $6.50) and Mizu Tako (summer octopus, $7). The sockeye was tender and succulent and tasted more like a sea breeze than the sea itself. We watched the sushi chef tenderize the octopus, yet it retained a robust chewiness. A slight seasoning of salt and fresh lemon made the otherwise mild mollusk more interesting.
For dessert, we tried the Heirloom Tomato Sorbet ($5). The pale-pink icy scoop transmitted a message of subdued sweetness and a quiet but unmistakable whisper of heirloom tomatoes. If you, like many Minnesotans equate summer with the fleeting appearance of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market, then we hope this will still be on the menu when you visit Kado no Mise.
The drink menus at Kado no Mise are three times as long as the food menus and can be a little daunting, with cocktails, wine, whiskey (Japanese, Scotch, bourbon), shochu, sake, and for good measure, tea. We asked our server what was most comparable to the barley tea that arrived at the beginning of our meal, and he recommended the Sobacha ($6), which we ordered hot. It was similarly complex, with a more pronounced sesame aroma with the wheaty backbone. The Sake menu, of which our server gave us a knowledgeable tour, runs the gamut of flavor from sweet to umami. We ordered chilled Kenbishi Kuromatsu (“Black Pine,” $11), which was on the umami end of the spectrum, and compared somewhat to an Islay whisky in its funky, woodsy flavor.
Cocktails are the recipes of Dan Oskey of Tattersall Distillery, and while a few incorporate Japanese ingredients like Suntory whisky or the mirin that sweetened our Takara Tesoro ($14), we felt that the cocktail menu strayed from the style of the food, both in the subtlety of composition and the moderation of price. That said, we enjoyed the Takara Tesoro as much as any Manhattan we’ve had in town. The Gimletto ($12) was abundant in floral aromatics and fruit flavors, and if that’s your thing, it is indeed a darn good, dressed-up gimlet.
With the noteworthy exception of one hapless and seemingly untrained waiter, the service was smiles, earnest generosity, and welcoming gestures across the board. There was none of the snobbishness that could easily plague a stylish new restaurant in the city’s trendiest district and none of the haughtiness that you might find at a Japanese restaurant with a menu that some might potentially find intimidating. The restaurant has been open long enough (since May) that if the staff didn’t really believe in what they were doing, or weren’t doing it very well, such genuine displays would have faded. At the sushi bar, we could order from the sushi chef or from the server who brought us our food and checked in with us frequently but unobtrusively.
We overheard the sushi chefs discussing Jiro Dreams of Sushi and sharing the virtues of this or that technique, but they didn’t lecture us about their training (unfortunately, it has happened to us before). They answered our questions with the expertise and enthusiasm of people engaged in a craft and then proceeded to converse with us, while going about their work. It was refreshing and left us feeling that even beyond the superb food and drinks, we had paid for a genuine experience and one touched by a little bit of magic. We felt well taken care of.
The food is reflective of Chef Shigeyuki Furukawa’s adherence to traditional Japanese dishes and technique, but it’s not an orthodox adherence. The seasonality of the food lends itself well to the abundance of Minnesota’s summer (see the sweet-corn fritters, the corn in the chawanmushi, the tomato sorbet). The approach is in the realm of Kiyatchi (for the simple sushi), the recently closed Tanpopo (for reverence for the traditional), and Tori Ramen (for authenticity of ingredients with a few local nods). This is to say that if it were possible to create a Japanese restaurant that is the polar opposite of an $18, three-fish, mayo-basted, crunchy-flake bedecked novelty sushi roll, Kado no Mise would be it.
It bears mentioning that if Kado no Mise is a master’s degree in Japanese food, Kaiseki Furukawa, it’s sister restaurant on the second floor of the building, is a doctorate. A set menu, only available Friday and Saturday evening, is intended to encourage diners to “experience every moment with one another as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime gathering.” And, at $168 inclusive of tax and tip, it is priced accordingly.
There is a reason why we keep putting dishes from Kado no Mise in our Friday Hot Five. As more of us have visited, we’ve been repeatedly wowed by the food and its quiet simplicity. Even the name of the restaurant, which translates as “corner restaurant” is simple, but evokes something foundational and long-standing. We look forward to visiting Kado no Mise on its corner for a long time to come.
James Norton contributed to this review.
Kado no Mise
Traditional Japanese food in Downtown Minneapolis
33 1st Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
OWNERS / CHEF: Shigeyuki Furukawa and John D. Gross / Shigeyuki Furukawa
Tue-Thu 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight
Sat 5 p.m.-midnight
Sun 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $12-$42
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate to amenable din
PARKING: Metered street parking and a structure across 1st Street