The new Mango Factory restaurant in Cedar-Riverside starts on shaky ground (only God can make a mango, of course). That said, we suppose it can be argued that calling a restaurant “Mango Canning Factory” or “Mango Processing Plant” would remove some of the name’s poetic charm.
From weakest to strongest, this Japanese pop restaurant serves up (in nearly equal proportions) sushi, specialty bubble tea and smoothie drinks, and comfort foods. The high incidence of home-style twists (exotic flavored milk teas, durian crepes, curry dishes) means that Mango Factory has an intriguing tang of authenticity that sets it apart from your usual Uptown sushi mill.
Speaking of which: The restaurant’s sushi program is an unpleasant combination of over-ambition and haphazard execution. The heart of Mango Factory’s sushi menu is astrologically themed mega rolls, such as the Flaming Aries (“deep baked” white tuna and salmon rolls, $15), or the Gemini Palace (blue crab / spicy tuna / avocado rolls connected by two shrimp tempura rolls, $13).
We felt perversely compelled to sample the Cancer Titan (coming soon: the Emphysema Ogre and the Arthritis Giant). Whatever the quality of the sushi itself, the shrimp tempura and eel-based Titan ($17) suffered from a sticky surplus of eel sauce — that tacky, sweet-salty goo that can enhance unagi when applied as a delicate lacquer, but can otherwise overwhelm everything it touches.
In its ideal form, sushi celebrates cleanliness and simplicity, standing back to let good fish do its work. The Cancer Titan and its horoscopic cousins are, by contrast, generally sticky piles of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Our simple avocado roll ($3.50) was little better. Ragged, unevenly sized, and poorly sealed, these are the sort of avocado rolls I, an untrained, bumbling sushi chef, crank out at home. But while the rice I use tastes warm, pliable, and lightly tangy, Mango Factory’s rice was cold, a bit stiff, and slightly soapy tasting.
Things got better in the drinks department. We were amused to the point of total distraction that the restaurant offered banana juice ($4, below right), a concept little explored on conventional restaurant menus. The juice was actually sort of a thick, cold, banana-based milky nectar — think “light smoothie” — topped off with a strawberry. It was uncomplicated, refreshing, and tasty.
A Jasmine Milk Tea ($3.50, above left) was similarly pleasant: mild, balanced, not oversweet.
We went all out on dessert, ordering the Signature Mango Toast, a thirteen dollar tribute to excess that drops jaws as it parades through the restaurant to your table. The “toast” is really most of a loaf of bread with one end sliced off, the bread innards chopped up, honey dipped, and combined with mango pieces, whipped cream, and ice cream (plus Pocky) to create a big toasted edible receptacle flanked by smears of chocolate, slices of kiwi, and individual maraschino cherries.
This is a dish that’s more about spectacle than flavor — but it’s also a charming introduction to the “honey toast” genre of desserts, which seem to be worth investigating and doing with more skill and panache.
The highlight of our meal was, ironically, the simplest thing we tried: a curried chicken and vegetable stew served on rice in a lacquered box ($9, below). The flavor was elementary but soothing, and if it was merely Vermont Curry properly prepared, so be it — the overall effect was a dish that we’d come back to anytime the mercury dipped below 32.
There’s a good restaurant at the core of Mango Factory’s busy and sprawling menu, and it almost certainly revolves around abandoning sushi and putting everything down on exotic beverages, Japanese toast desserts, and warm comfort foods like curries, soups, and teriyaki dishes.
Japanese pop food in West Bank
233 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55454
Beer and wine
ENTREE RANGE: $10-30
PARKING: Nearby ramp