Billed as the first sake brewery restaurant outside of Japan, Moto-i is a bewildering blend of chic neighborhood bistro, genuinely cultured Japanese outpost, and obnoxious nightclub. Newly opened, there’s presumably a fair bit of fine tuning still taking place at this Uptown nightspot, which defiantly refuses to serve sushi and instead serves up classic izakaya (Japanese small neighborhood bar) fare. There’s no real direct comparison to this concept, but St. Paul’s Tanpopo come closest, with its emphasis on noodle dishes and the simple, earthy flavors of modest day-to-day Japanese cuisine.
The sake, brewed on site, is absolutely excellent, if a bit pricey; the restaurant compensates by pricing its snack-sized and relentless creative bar food at a level that encourages splurgey sake consumption. A melon-esque sake is particularly striking and pleasant.
The music gets crazy loud on the weekends, and service picks up a distinctly cooler-than-thou attitude; weeknight are probably the best bet for a long, comfortable sip-and-nosh session.
BEST BET: The steamed hoisin pork buns ($3) are delicious, and impossible to avoid gobbling up. Also excellent is the silken and richly flavored yakiudon ($10, scallion, chicken and wheat-flour noodles.)
Japanese in Uptown, Minneapolis
2940 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER: Blake Richardson
12pm – 2am Daily
BAR: Beer and Sake
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED?: Yes and Yes for weekends
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes and Yes
ENTREE RANGE: ($7-$10)