“People up here seem to be more adventurous than people in the Cities,” says Sean Martin, who has helped chef and owner Jack Hang open, and is the front of house manager at Hanabi Japanese Cuisine. “They are willing to try new things and let the chef make something up for them.”
After being open only a month Martin and Hang have already hired four new chefs to keep up with the demand. They have only relied on word of mouth for advertising. News of the new sushi restaurant has spread quickly, as the only other option for sushi is the Zen House in Hermantown and downtown Duluth. “The Zen House is more like home-cooking style sushi, where we are trying to go for high end,” says Martin, adding that he enjoys the Zen House, but wants to bring a different style of sushi to Duluth.
Jack Hang has been training as a sushi chef for six years, but Martin notes, “most sushi chefs in Japan study for eight to ten years.” Before coming to Minnesota, Hang worked at Haru on Wall Street in New York. Martin and Hang met and began working together when they helped open Osaka in Coon Rapids. Martin encouraged Hang to open a restaurant in Duluth. “There is the Thai place [Thai Krathong] but that is all there is up here for a higher end Asian place,” says Martin.
The menu includes both traditional sushi and modern Asian cuisine. “We put on the menu a lot of kitchen food because we were not sure how receptive people would be to the raw stuff,” says Martin. “There are some fish you can freeze because it won’t change the texture, you don’t want to freeze something like tuna.” Hanabi sources fish from JFC and True World in Chicago. They are able to get fish delivered fresh, unfrozen, and multiple times a week. “We can order fish that are not in season, but we prefer to keep what is in season,” says Martin, who is a big fan of Aji, a horse mackerel that is currently in season.
The North Shore Roll ($13), one of the most popular on the menu, is known as an “S roll” in other parts of the country. Salmon and avocado are tightly rolled in sticky rice and topped with seaweed and five types of roe. The roll is dressed with spicy mayo and eel sauce. There are four colorful tobiko types of roe (small eggs harvested from flying fish) and one salmon roe. The tobiko roe are sweet with a gritty sticky texture, where the salmon roe has a waxy shell that can be broken to allow the inner fluid to fill you mouth and accompany the taste of the sushi.
Sake is the focus of Hanabi’s bar, but wine, beer, and a full bar are also available. “Grades [of sake] depend on how polished the rice is,” so Martin has put together a sake menu ranging from $9 to $65+ for 100, 350 or 750 ml bottles. “Sake is drank warm when it is cheap to hide the impurities,” says Martin, and thus Hanabi serves the majority of sakes cold. Since most people coming to the restaurant are new to sake, numbers have been included on the menu to aid customers in selecting a sake suited to their taste. Positive numbers indicate a sake that is drier, more acidic and lighter in body. Negative numbers indicate a sweeter sake with a heavier body.
Hanabi Japanese Cuisine
Japanese cuisine in Duluth
110 N 1st Ave W
Duluth, MN 55802
OWNER: Jack Hang
AVERAGE ENTREE: $10-$15