Masu Sushi and Robata in Northeast Minneapolis

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

For better or worse, sushi isn’t going anywhere — for every diner carping about freshness or sustainability, there are five lining up to get their fix of tuna nigiri. That said, with the current boom of sushi places throughout the Twin Cities (and Uptown in particular) an eventual die-off seems inevitable; soundly-run old warriors like Origami and Fuji Ya will likely maintain their footing as all but the sharpest of the new breed fight one another to death.

That said, local interest in Japanese food seems to be expanding, if not actually moving on — witness the success of Obento-Ya on Como (which has emphasized bento boxes and charcoal-grilled robata skewers, although the latter were recently dropped from restaurant’s lunch menu), the sake gastropub moto-i in Uptown, and the austere, wonderful, noodle-focused Tanpopo in St. Paul.

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

And so: We come to the newest, biggest kid on the block, the Tim McKee-launched, sustainable-fish focused Masu Sushi and Robata. We previewed Masu after attending its press event in mid-April, but returned to explore its menu more thoroughly and get a sense of its long-term prospects.

The prospects seem bright, and we were encouraged to see Chris Olson (who successfully opened moto-i and had previously been stationed at Meritage) in the house in a sous chef capacity*.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

While showcasing its sushi offerings, Masu equally emphasizes intriguing small plates, numerous robata skewers, and serious noodle offerings. The menu ranges widely and borders on the overwhelming, but it’s organized well enough that an experienced diner should be able to patch together a well-rounded meal. We generally quite liked the robata (above) — the tsukune chicken meatball ($3.75) was surprisingly delicate and packed a flavor punch, and the miso-glazed grilled sweet corn ($2.50) was a novel and delicious choice. A chicken breast and scallion skewer ($3.50, not pictured) was a nicely balanced treat, but we found the pork belly ($4.50, above) to be 95 percent fat; it had a nicely charred crispy outside and pork fat lovers may savor it, but hopefully we’ll get a bit more meat next time.

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

There’s quite a lot to like about Masu. From its clear concept to its smart-as-a-whip Japanese pop culture interior to its quirky, well-executed food, the place feels legitimately cosmopolitan. Japanese kewpie dolls, pachinko machines, and gorgeous sake bottle dispensers above the bar all contribute to an otherworldly feel, and a well-trained staff does a consistent job of explaining and interpreting everything from the menu’s shôchû “gummi” drinks, to the hospitality over-flow pour of sake, to concept of robata.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Multiple visits revealed some stunning strengths and occasional inconsistencies. The Firecracker Roll ($14) was recommended by our waitress, and it impressed our guests, visiting food journalists from San Francisco. Rice is what sets decent sushi apart from the good stuff, and this stuff was perfectly tender with a mild sweet / vinegar flavor. The texture and taste balance of the roll (between buttery avocado, crunchy shrimp tempura, crisp cucumber, and tempura flakes) was spot on, and it lacked the clown car over-ambition that is the undoing of so many big rolls at many so-so sushi restaurants. Also worth noting is Masu’s house-ground wasabi paste, which sticks out thanks to its pale green color and deep, nuanced flavor.

Less noteworthy was the Masu roll ($16), which felt cluttered compared to the Firecracker. Part of the problem: an overly spicy habañero masago (roe) that overpowered the mellow scallop and avocado and even the unagi sauce.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We liked the Tsukemono ($5.50), an assortment of Japanese pickles, so much that we ordered them on two successive visits. Unfortunately, they changed from one day to the next; they were crisp and sweet  /tart balanced the first time, and sticky and a bit rubbery the second. Consistency is the bugbear of every restaurant, and little details like this can make a real impact.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Likewise, experiences with noodles varied from trip to trip. Our first experience, with the Pork Belly Ramen ($11), was underwhelming — the broth tasted underpowered, and the pork belly itself was floppy and not particularly flavorful. The Tonkatsu Curry Ramen ($10.50, pictured above) featured crispy breaded pork and couldn’t have been more different; it was a rich, gorgeous, balanced dish, with the softness of the poached egg standing up against the freshness of its greens, and the crunchy pork maintaining its texture even in the flavorful broth.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Numerous other dishes we tried at Masu ranged from good to excellent. The house version of Agedashi Tofu ($6) comes as a stack of three little tofu logs, stacked up like firewood. With all respect to this delicious dish, it tasted, texture-wise, like the tofu equivalent of tater tots — crunchy little cylinders with creamy, mellow interiors. Shiso and ginger condiments helped spike up the flavor a bit.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A tuna tataki special ($11) was similarly balanced — a soft pillow of avocado made a fine dipping destination for tender pieces of seared tuna bedded on greens and sprinkled with black sesame seeds and fried lotus root chips.

Sake drinkers will likely adore the sake menu, which is explanatory without being pedantic, and plays up the poetic beauty of the various brands and styles (10,000 Ways, True Mirror, Cabin in the Snow, etc.) I thought Seven Spearsmen to be reasonably priced and excellent, but follow your own preferences; the menu is clear enough to help guide you toward your preferred sake experience (mineral, woodsy, melon-like, pear-like, and so forth — the descriptors are precise but also accurate and believable). Most sakes come in 4-, 12- and 24-oz. sizes, which makes hangover management a relative breeze.

BEST BET: The Firecracker Roll packs tremendous flavor and balance; the Tonkatsu Curry Ramen is a real winner in the soup and noodles category.

*UPDATE, June 8, 2011: Corrected to clarify Chef Olson’s job title.

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

Masu Sushi & Robata
★★★☆ (Excellent)

330 E Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN
612.332.6278

HOURS:
Monday-Thursday 11am-12am
Friday 11am-1am
Saturday 4pm-1am
Sunday 4pm-11pm
Open Monday, April 18, 2011.
OWNER / CHEF: Sushi Avenue / Tim McKee, Alex Chase, A-san Yamamoto
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS: Yes
PRICES: Appetizers $3-$15, Noodles $9.50-$12.50, Set Meals $18-$25, Nigiri & Sashimi $4.50-$11, Sushi Rolls $3-$16, Robata $2-$5.50, Specialty Cocktails $7-$11.

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

Facebook Comments

comments

James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).

Visit Website

27 Comments

  1. Congrats to our friends at Masu Sushi and Robata. Cheers!

  2. joe allen07/23/2011Reply

    We had a delicious dinner at Masu, a few weeks after they opened. The space is exciting too. The din while trying to converse while seated at a four top – unenjoyable. That will make it difficult for us to return.

  3. I really love the decor–kitschy pop culture is such a smart way to go. There’s nothing worse than an “authentic” atmosphere that just doesn’t measure up.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] reviews Masu (our review is… well, just over there to the left), a hilarious insight into the Lowbrow (which we recently wrote up), there’s a pasty food [...]

  2. [...] ramen creators including Masu, moto-i, Chef Russell Klein of Meritage, and Chef Jack Riebel of Dakota will square off from [...]

  3. [...] Element Pizza, writes about the Be’wiched Deli expansion (Icehouse), and reviews Masu (our review’s here.) » Whoa There, Rick Nelson » Print Version // » Leave a [...]

  4. [...] stress to enjoy a (hopefully) good meal tonight at Masu. I haven’t been yet and have heard mixed yet intriguing reviews. This was written by Sharyn. Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, at 1:00 pm. Filed [...]

  5. [...] of Michaels’ standout drinks from La Belle Vie, Masu, and Barrio are included, interspersed with his commentaries on life behind the bar. Joining his [...]

  6. [...] generally well-reviewed Masu Sushi & Robata is branching out, opening a second location at the Mall of America in early spring of 2012. [...]

  7. [...] looks back at his favorite meals of the year (featuring: In Season, Masu, Sopranos) and Mecca does the same (Heidi’s, Marvel Bar, Tilia), Minneapolis Public Schools [...]

  8. [...] What we wrote then: “From its clear concept to its smart-as-a-whip Japanese pop culture interior to its quirky, well-executed food, the place feels legitimately cosmopolitan.” – James Norton, June 8, 2011 [...]

  9. [...] fish fry, Bon Appetit names Masu one of the best new sushi restaurants in the country (here’s our review), a taste of Mojo Monkey doughnuts, June is food Co-op Pub Trivia month at eight local bars [PDF of [...]

  10. [...] Masu Sushi & Robata‘s new MOA location is seeking cooks and sushi chefs, tasting notes for Boom Island’s Thoprock (here’s our profile of the brewery), Rick Nelson rounds up U-pick strawberry farms, a preview of Northgate Brewing of Northeast Minneapolis, St. Paul’s hot-dog eating champion, Rachel assesses the right number of “mini” farmers markets, and a Q&A with Rob Shellman of the Better Beer Society (here’s our profile of Shellman). » U-Pick Strawberries and Morning Roundup Tags: better beer society, Boom Island, Masu Sushi & Robata, morning roundup, Northgate Brewing, Rob Shellman, Thoprock » Print Version // » Leave a Comment Click here to cancel reply. [...]

  11. [...] hope I can enjoy or even taste the magic of Masu. I’ll make sure to order the spicy stuff. Firecracker Roll, here I come! This was written by Sharyn. Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012, at 4:43 pm. Filed [...]

  12. [...] makes sense — we’re not on an ocean — but you can go to Meritage or you can go to Masu (above), and I would hold up what they’re doing in those realms with anybody. Sea Change, [...]

  13. [...] 25, a Japanese restaurant has never been on my radar as a family meal destination. But a visit to Masu Sushi and Robata in Northeast Minneapolis left me and my husband hungry for more — so hungry, in fact, that we [...]

  14. [...] makes Travel + Leisure’s short list for sushi (pictured above: Masu’s firecracker roll; here’s our review). And a downtown Fargo bar [...]

  15. [...] and Shiitake Soba Noodle Bowl from Masu, Minneapolis I was a little late boarding the Masu train, but the duck and shiitake soba noodle bowl I had my first visit got me hooked. What’s [...]

  16. [...] Hibachi was too intriguing to pass up. After all, sushi can be pricey — a signature roll at Masu can top out at $16 — and there is something about the all-you-can-eat mystique that makes you [...]

  17. [...] food is far superior to most of One Two Three Sushi’s skyway peers. You might not find the unbeatable bowl of ramen that you’re accustomed to at the Masu restaurants, but downtown diners should rejoice over [...]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*