Kyatchi, the newly opened Japanese eatery at Nicollet and 38th, is not just another sushi mill. That Kyatchi’s owners (who include former First Avenue manager Samuel Peterson, Sarah Peterson of Azia and Stella’s, and restaurant marketer Anne Saxton) have the courage to step away from California rolls, shrimp tempura rolls, and Philly rolls and move into the more esoteric world of pressed mackerel nigiri, seaweed salads, and Japanese-inflected hot dogs is admirable. Whether it’s also a risky business proposition is an open question for the moment.
Kyatchi’s chef is Hide Tozawa, formerly of Fuji Ya. His background as one-time personal chef to former Twins player Tsuyoshi Nishioka informs the feel of the restaurant, which uses baseball paraphernalia and fish skin lamps to riff off of two distinct “catches,” one stitched in leather and one hauled flopping from the sea.
About that fish: Kyatchi joins the ranks of Masu and Sea Change as a restaurant dedicated to both seasonal food and better stewardship of the ocean. These decisions focus the menu and help set it apart from the hordes of interchangeable Uptown and suburban joints grinding out wave after wave of $15 novelty reverse rolls splashed with ponzu and eel sauce.
Once you visit Kyatchi, you won’t be surprised to discover that local indie restaurant veteran Kim Bartmann is involved as a consultant. The restaurant has a comfortably chic, lived-in feeling you’d expect from an eatery founded 5 to 10 years ago, not the slightly sparse or stagey feel of a hot new thing popping onto the Minneapolis-St. Paul scene.
The menu is some good, some great, some questionable, all interesting and all expensive. We were fascinated by the Sake Oshizushi, pressed sushi with salmon and a slice of lemon with a garnish of roe. Each rectangular block of nigiri had the perfect angles of a brick, but the lemon slice obliterated the taste of the fish even as the wall of rice buried it. We took off all of our lemon slices and enjoyed the roll quite a bit more, but even then the $15 price tag felt like an overreach.
The Battera (pressed mackerel and kombu seaweed, $14) will please lovers of this powerfully flavored, oily fish, but few others, and it suffers from the same problem as the Sake Oshizushi — a great deal of rice and a small piece of fish.
We thought the menu’s little avocado and chopped egg hot dog ($8) was a charming idea, and it tasted wonderful as well: a plump, flavorful sausage moderated and enhanced by the creaminess of its toppings. When we come back, we’ll try the curry dog, featuring curried cabbage.
The restaurant’s kaiso salad ($6.50), a mix of seaweed with a sesame dressing, was unlike anything we’ve tried before — bright and light and … chewy. If you can get your head around the new paradigm and stop expecting something crisp, you may well love it. As is true of much of the restaurant’s menu, you’ve got to go to it; it won’t meet you where you’re comfortable. And for true lovers of food, that’s no problem.
A single piece of snapper nigiri ($4) was one of the best bites of sushi we’ve had in quite some time (anywhere, really). It tasted clean, subtle, and bright, and it was so small and light that it passed from plate to stomach like a puff of fresh air. Based on this soaring high point (and a similarly tasty but more conventional salmon nigiri), we’ll make a point of ordering the daily nigiri from here on out.
The restaurant’s Inaniwa Udon ($16) was flawless, its noodles hand made in Akita, Japan, and prepared skillfully, neither too soft nor too chew. The textural contrast between the dish’s nameko mushrooms and organic chicken was an added bonus, and the broth pulled off the feat of being rich in flavor without being salty.
Kyatchi’s menu could stand to bend a bit and make some concessions to local appetites and wallets. But its grace notes — including a selection of Verdant tea, good local beer on tap, and authentic Japanese dishes in a city choked with bastardized American riffs — far outweigh its liabilities.
Brenda Johnson contributed to this review.
Sushi and Japanese fare in Kingfield
3758 Nicollet Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55409
OWNERS: Samuel Peterson, Sarah Peterson, Anne Saxton
BAR: Beer, wine, and sake
PARKING: Street, generally within 1-2 blocks
ENTREE RANGE: $8-21
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes