It’s Friday night. The monotony of the workweek is out of sight and out of mind. Well, at least for the next 72 hours. Your friend proclaims: “We should totes grab sushi tonight.” Enter the age-old question: Where should we go? Nowadays, sushi joints are popping up faster than you can say “spicy tuna roll.” From the widely praised Sushi Fix of Wayzata to any number of interchangeable fish joints in Uptown and downtown Minneapolis, the format isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Enter Eat Street Buddha Kitchen and Lounge, located in the Nicollet and 26th St. space formerly occupied by the similarly themed Azia. The sushi / noodles / small plates / everything and the kitchen sink Buddha Kitchen has hit the Minneapolis scene with bells and whistles. From LED lighting surrounding the main bar to table-turnin’ DJs, it’s a place to be seen — and unseen. (It’s dark. Unfavorable conditions for Instagramming.)
Sometimes a humble dish can make a big statement. The Hand-Folded Pot Stickers ($9) said: “Lick this plate clean — it’s worth it.” Their crispy / chewy exterior and subtle, savory, pork-filled interior came together harmoniously. Not to mention the island of radicchio slaw and garlic ponzu. They made you have a moment. Or six.
Land and Sea Spring Rolls ($9) were similarly good. They were bright and herbal without resorting to a mouthful of cilantro. We applauded the grade of the Key West shrimp and glazed chicken used, as well as the peanut dipping sauce. It had depth of flavor and wasn’t minimalist to the point of being pointless.
Wanting to live a little, we ordered the somewhat rare Tuna Belly Nigiri, but to no avail. It was already sold out at 7pm. We called for backup and opted for the Bluefin Tuna Nigiri ($14 for 2 pieces) instead. It was like budda (not to be confused with Buddha). The melt-in-your-mouth tenderness made us have yet another moment. It wasn’t fishy or chewy either. Our eyes closed, followed by an “Mmm…”
What’s in a name? Well, actually a lot — especially if you name your specialty rolls after your restaurant. Shockingly, the Buddha Roll ($19 for 6 pieces, above, left) was the biggest disappointment of the evening. Served warm, on a cool slice of cucumber (which made for a warm slice of cucumber), this salmon-wrapped satchel of crab and halibut topped with spicy scallops tasted less like a clever combination of four pricy cuts of fish and more like a damp fishcake. It wasn’t hideous per se (the lemon helped), but really, for $19, it should have been a home run, not a foul ball.
As far as traditional rolls went, the Caterpillar Roll ($14 for 8 pieces) was tasty and had a nice flavor profile. The cuts of fish were fresh and abundant. The crab was actually highlighted correctly and wasn’t just filler. The Dynamite Roll ($8 for 6 pieces) stayed true to its name. The cucumbers added the perfect amount of crunch, and the Thai chili made us weep. But perhaps they were tears of joy.
A sampling of other dishes ranged from good to excellent. The restaurant’s Bulgogi Beef Salad ($12, above, right) with mixed greens, crunchy wontons, and candied walnuts was not particularly memorable, but the beef was tender and flavorful, and the mix of veggies was a cheerful supporting cast for the salad’s main player. The restaurant’s Wok Fired Peanut Noodles might have had too much rich peanut flavor if we’d ordered them as a main, but as a shared side dish, they were delightful (if a bit dear at $14) — and the fiery kick at the back of each bite made them shine. And while we found the scallop portion of the Pan-Seared Scallops ($25, above, center) dish to be forgettable, they were served with a selection of fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts, cooked to perfection.
The extensive drink selection left little to the imagination. Ranging from Asian beers to crafty cocktails, the sky was the limit in the alcohol arena. Dining with a Nipponophile, we were inclined to order the L’Poire Lychee ($10). The lychee simple syrup, pear nectar, and St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur transported her back to Japan. It was that good. The Bluesy Basilrita ($10) packed a mean punch of tequila, Grand Marnier, blueberries, and citrus. However, it was screaming for a bit more basil.
A return trip for brunch yielded another boozy beverage find. The restaurant’s Buddha Bloody (above) was simple and elegant, a perfectly balanced conversation between spicy heat, salt, Prairie Organic vodka, and tomato juice. The skewer could have been a little more creative, though — perhaps instead of olives and celery, a couple of shumai…?
As solid as the bloody was, the rest of brunch was better. The Candied Bacon French Toast with Caramel Butter Cream Sauce ($11) was, to our surprise, no mere sugar bomb. The French toast led with cinnamon and bright yuzu citrus, complemented by the sweet-and-smoky bacon bits sprinkled on top. The caramel sauce was sweet, but not sickly or too sticky. Probably the best French toast we’ve had this year… and we’ve had a few.
The Korean Beef Benedict ($12) represented the savory side of the aisle with aplomb. This combination of homemade kimchi, marinated beef tenderloin, and bulgogi Hollandaise sauce was both properly balanced and creative: The sauce was rich and bright, the kimchi spicy but not overly aggressive, and the marinated beef both tender and rich, strong but not overwhelming its culinary partners.
Buddha Kitchen didn’t skimp on the sides, either. The Yellow Curry Hash Browns ($2.50) boasted a fine, almost velvety texture and each bite delivered a rich, creamy hit of mellow and enchanting curry flavor.
The house-made Spicy Thai Sausage Patties were workmanlike but pleasing, tender in texture with the conviction of spicy heat behind each mouthful.
Executive Chef Grant Halsne (who we interviewed here) has bitten off quite a bit with Buddha Kitchen, but previous gigs (Stella’s Fish Cafe, 20.21 at the Walker) seem to have served him well. He’s dealing skillfully from a deep deck and nearly every hand we surveyed was a winner.
James Norton wrote the brunch section of this review and contributed additional notes and observations.
Eat Street Buddha Kitchen and Lounge
Asian Fusion Cuisine
2550 Nicollet Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55404
OWNER / CHEF: Mike Tupa / Grant Halsne
HOURS: Mon-Fri 3pm-2am, Sat-Sun 10am-2am
ENTREE RANGE: $14-$33
SUSHI RANGE: $4-$20
SMALL PLATES RANGE: $6-$14