Sushi of Gari is a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in New York City. The genius of the place is simple: fresh, high-quality fish reigns supreme (as it should), but everything you eat is given a little bit of a twist. That could mean a slight searing of the fish, a brushing with ponzu or another such house-made sauce, and / or a sprinkling with a few choice but important condiments or fixings. None of the nigiri or sashimi pieces seem “ordinary,” but neither do they feel overdressed or drowned by their accompaniments.
It’s that exact sense of “tastefully dressed up” that dominates the food at PinKU, a newly opened Japanese restaurant celebrated for its appearance on TV’s Shark Tank. Our Seared Salmon with Rice Cake ($5.50) is nigiri with an extra bit of color, texture, and flavor thanks to the application of a blow torch’s flame. On our second visit, this dish was quite good. On our first visit (thanks to a less rushed staff, perhaps, or a more deft hand on the torch), it was spectacular, worthy of any bite we’ve tasted anywhere.
And our Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice ($6) was distinguished (on both visits) by the lovely, intense crispiness of the supporting rice cake complementing the tenderness of the fish. It’s such a simple thing, but it wouldn’t be easy to pull off at home. And it’s the kind of thing that sticks in your memory and makes you crave another hit — and another, and another.
The very short menu at PinKU is perfect. It’s etched into wooden boards hung from pegs near the door, and it’s mostly driven by tuna, salmon, or shrimp, rearranged with various understated accompaniments. Undersung but crucial support comes from the rice, which we found to be invariably well seasoned and perfectly cooked. This isn’t the case at many (if not most) run-of-the-mill sushi places, and the places that take care with their rice (Obento-Ya and Kyatchi come to mind) really stand out.
For that reason, we found the Seared Salmon on Rice (served with green onions, radish, and avocado, $6.50) to be a particular treat. It was humble; it was simple; it was terrific.
Although PinKU is an order-at-the-counter casual restaurant, we found the hospitality to be warm and attentive, with effusive apologies for a longer-than-expected wait on a Sunday, when the restaurant was short-staffed for a 5 p.m. rush. The Kyoto-street-food-inspired PinKU may be on the verge of pulling off something incredibly difficult — presenting humble, honest, beautifully prepared Japanese-inspired food without too much pandering to the American palate (no disgusting gouts of sweetened mayonnaise-based sauces here) but with an eye to what Americans like to eat and how they like to order it.
PinKU is designed to be a franchise, and it looks to be poised to be a successful one, so long as it can scale up while keeping a handle on quality. So far, so good.
PinKU Japanese Street Food
Japanese in Northeast Minneapolis
20 University Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Daily 5-10 p.m.
Lunch service beginning later this summer
BAR: Beer + wine + sake
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Often
ENTREE RANGE: $17-$25 for a full meal
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Limited metered street parking, nearby ramp