People who read and write about food presumably value information about which joint has the best burger or doughnut or where they should spend their dollars on a fancy evening out. But people who read and write about food also value the inherent social aspect of eating. Food brings families and friends together, and sometimes the company is what actually makes the meal sparkle.
At Encore Karaoke & Sushi Lounge in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, that idea of gathering over food with friends is funneled into eleven posh and shiny private karaoke rooms. In some Asian countries, a more introverted style of partying is the status quo, and that’s what Encore seeks to recreate. “Going out” can mean secluding your crew in a private space with lots of amenities. And probably belting out some Beyoncé while you’re at it.
But hey, there’s also sushi! And at Encore it’s pretty good. Owners Peter Chen and Jay Ming (both originally from China) brought in Boston sushi chef Kenny Tsering to execute Encore’s large menu, which ranges from a la carte sushi and sashimi to California and Philadelphia rolls to interesting specialty rolls. And if you feel like going hard, you can dine at the mercy of the sushi chef in omakase style ($50-$150).
While a late-night karaoke fest is definitely on our list of summer activities (rooms start at $39 / hour), we opted for the more affordable main dining room experience on our two visits.
We started with Encore’s shrimp tempura, which was a little greasy, and sparse at $10 for 4 pieces. If you’re going for appetizers, we suggest digging into the excellent Spring Rolls ($9) instead. Each bite is like sinking your teeth into a perfumed garden of soft basil, asparagus, avocado, and peppers.
From the a la carte list, we chose scallop ($7) and eel ($7) nigiri and octopus sashimi ($6). The scallops were disappointingly bitter, while a sweet, caramel-like sauce overwhelmed the eel. We also thought the little mounds of rice beneath each piece of fish weren’t exactly little. It’s harder for the fish to shine when you have to munch through loads of rice.
Conversely, the octopus sashimi was gorgeous. The plate arrived with several delicately purple slices of cold cooked octopus nestled against thin wheels of fresh lime and unadorned cucumber matchsticks. The octopus had a clean buttery flavor and a manageable chewiness, and we loved that each bite was scented with citrus. This dish would make a killer palate cleanser.
Of Encore’s rolls, we were surprised to find that the simply named Vegetable Roll ($5) was our favorite. Stuffed with fried tofu skin, tangy pickled daikon, asparagus, cucumber and avocado, it seemed like the go-to lunch of a beachside fitness mogul rather than a satisfying meal. But this roll struck a delightful balance between sweet, savory, and herbaceous flavors and boasted major crunch.
We gave the Encore Roll ($15, pictured at top) a shot, but weren’t crazy about the watery combo of fish wrapped in slices of cucumber. Thank goodness we capped our meal with the decadent IIT Roll ($16), named for a college in Chicago. Stuffed with fluffy omelet and crab meat, and topped with a generous coating of furikake (a seasoning of pulverized roasted salmon, seaweed, and sesame seeds) that gave the roll an addictive, toasty crunch, this roll made the perfect dessert. No soy sauce necessary.
Encore occupies the former Verdant Tea location on Franklin Avenue, and its minimalist dining room belies the restaurant’s total size. A dark, unmarked hallway near the bar leads to 4,000 square feet of karaoke land beyond. Each room has a theme, theatrical lights, and high tech equipment — quite an upgrade from the basic, alcohol-free karaoke rooms above Korea Restaurant on Oak Street. Encore’s excellent manager, Jaclyn, gave us a tour of the glittering possibilities, as sparking visions of sweaty, sushi-fueled pop anthems played in our heads.
But the best part is that Encore serves its entire food and drink menu in every single room. Squad goals, am I right?
Encore Karaoke & Sushi Lounge
Sushi and private karaoke in Seward
2111 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
OWNER / CHEF: Peter Chen and Jay Ming / Zhaxi Taxing (hot kitchen) and Kenny Tsering (sushi)
Mon-Thu 4:30-10:30 p.m.
Sun 4:30-9:30 p.m.
(See website for karaoke lounge hours)
BAR: Full bar
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes, for karaoke
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not really
ENTREE RANGE: $5-$38 (does not include a la carte sushi)
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Large lot