Origami Restaurant in Downtown Minneapolis

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Coastal snobs can be relied upon to badmouth Midwestern food — constantly, and with dunderheaded ignorance — without understanding that we’re eating some amazing stuff: local game, great beer, world-class cheese, Vietnamese and Mexican food, and high-end farm-to-table cooking, for starters. But they’ve got a point when it comes to sushi. Try sushi at a hardcore place in California, Hawaii, or New York City and Midwestern stuff regularly pales by comparison.

In fact, there’s something fundamentally misguided about eating sushi in the Midwest. Great sushi is predicated on freshness of fish and mastery of technique, two things greatly improved by proximity to where the fish actually live and are caught.

Therefore, you’ve gotta hand it to Origami: They’re doing a heroic job considering the constraints. Sushi at Origami stands up to the stuff served at a good neighborhood restaurant on either coast — while it’s not going to equal what they’re serving at Jewel Bako in Manhattan or Sushi Ota in San Diego, it’s competitive and at the top of the local sushi food chain.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Sushi fans are rightfully obsessed with fish, but less glamorously, the food also lives and dies based on its rice. Bad sushi rice* can taste sour, heavy, and/or doughy, and drag down even the best fish. Ideally, sushi rice is light on the palate and sticky, a bit sweet and a tiny bit tart. Origami nails it, and this alone makes it a worthwhile destination for the locally based sushi nut.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Another clincher: Origami is dedicated to the practice of omekase — literally, entrusting yourself to the chef’s hands. Give the sushi chef at Origami a general price range and any dietary concerns and he’ll prepare you a multi-course sushi tasting that shows off the best of what’s fresh. It’s a more intimate and entertaining way to dine than simply ticking off various rolls and nigiri off of the menu, and a lot less work. Trust the chef, and the chef repays that trust.

While nigiri or sashimi are the best places to understand the fish that a sushi joint is using, a simple California roll is a good place to start evaluating a restaurant’s approach to sushi overall: You’ve got the challenge of balancing multiple ingredients (crab, avocado, cucumber, rice, smelt roe) and creating a package where each aspect shines through. Origami’s California Maki ($7.25) passes the test with flying colors, and the crab even tastes real; many places sub in a fish-based substitute.

Nigiri tasted fresh and light, although not transcendently so — there’s no shame in the fish served at Origami, but it’s not world class. To the restaurant’s credit, it’s a reasonably good value for what you get — generally more expensive, for example, than a place like Sushi Tango or Midori’s Floating World Cafe, but a clear cut above in terms of quality. Also, and this can’t be emphasized enough: Origami is located 1,000+ miles away from the nearest ocean. It’s a modern miracle that the fish is as fresh-tasting and nicely handled as it is.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Main dishes are generally good, although St. Paul’s Tanpopo tends to tackle similar katsu and/or noodle dishes with more subtlety and skill. If you’re going to eat sushi, however, and you can’t hop a flight, Origami should be your first — and arguably, only — stop.

*”Sushi” actually refers to the vinegar-treated rice and therefore “sushi rice” is kind of redundant. Still,  saying “sushi rice” is less confusing than calling what we know as sushi “sushi with fish.”

Origami Restaurant

Rating: ★★★☆ (Excellent)

Japanese in Downtown Minneapolis
30 N 1st St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
612.333.8430
OWNER: Kiminobu Ichikawa
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 11am-2pm 7 5-9:30pm
Fri 11am-2pm 7 5-10:30pm
Sat 5-10:30pm
Sun 5-9pm
BAR: Full, good sake selection
RESERVATIONS: For parties of 10 or more
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes/Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $15-$40

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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10 Comments

  1. They also have a location in the Ridgedale shopping center for those not so close to the downtown location.

  2. pinecone 04/30/2009 Reply

    The idea that we are landlocked in MSP so therefore the sashimi served here is not as good as on the coast is such a joke. Almost all fish served at sushi bars has been previously frozen and most of it comes from the same supplier.

  3. Ditto what pinecone said. Even a sushi joint on an ocean pier is using frozen stuff (in virtually every U.S. state, N.Y. I know for sure). That said, there IS a great deal of skill involved in the proper thawing of the fish, as well as the temperature at which it’s kept frozen, prepared and served. I’ve been served sashimi here in MN that was still frozen in the middle which is absolutely inexcusable and impossible not to notice while it’s being cut.

    Origami’s staff is the best at consistently executing the care and preparation, which to me, makes it the best sushi place in town.

    Where our sushi places suffer in contrast to places like NYC is in volume of diners. It may be weeks between patrons looking for something as simple and common as unagi, so it’s next to impossible to find a MSP sushi joint that keeps it. I love mackerel sashimi (Spanish, jack, etc.) and rarely will I find it. Even the places that have it on the menu often return to say “we’re out” when you order it. These aren’t “weird”..there just isn’t enough traffic for them to keep a lot on hand. Again, availability is where Origami seems most consistent to me.

  4. Argh…where’s the edit button? That was supposed to be UNI not unagi. Duh.

  5. Dedicated Reader 04/30/2009 Reply

    Good to see a shout-out to Ota. Best sushi in the US.

  6. Dedicated Reader 04/30/2009 Reply

    >>*”Sushi” actually refers to the vinegar-treated rice and therefore “sushi rice” is kind of redundant. Still, saying “sushi rice” is less confusing than calling what we know as sushi “sushi with fish.”

    Actually, there’s two ways to write “sushi”. The one we commonly see uses the characters for “longevity/congratulations” and the character for “administer”. “Su” is also a homophone for the word for “vinegar” and vinegar is considered to have longevity-enhancing properties.

    However, “sushi” can also be written as one character, two different ways. The more common way that we may see combines the radical for “fish” on the left with “delicious” on the right. The less common way combines “fish” with “while”.

    Traditionally, “sushi” referred to salted and fermented fish, not fresh fish.

    Point is – no need to think of it as “sushi with fish,” since it’s not simply referring to the prepared rice portion of the dish, nor would “sushi rice” be redundant, as obviously that type of rice preparation is one of many in the world.

    >>Origami is dedicated to the practice of omekase — literally, entrusting yourself to the chef’s hands.

    Also, it’s “omakase”, not “omekase”. “Omakase” is the honorific (“o-“) plus a verb form of “makaseru” – which means “to leave something to someone” or “trust somebody with something.” The character for it is the radical for “person” on the left and the radical for “king” on the right, and generally means “duty” or “responsibility”. So using the term reflects a subservience to authority, in this case the master chef’s tastes.

  7. I first had omakase at Origami (downtown). I now measure all sushi restaurants by how well the chef can pull it off. Origami consistently wins with me!

Trackbacks for this post

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