Coastal snobs can be relied upon to badmouth Midwestern food — constantly, and with dunderheaded ignorance — without understanding that we’re eating some amazing stuff: local game, great beer, world-class cheese, Vietnamese and Mexican food, and high-end farm-to-table cooking, for starters. But they’ve got a point when it comes to sushi. Try sushi at a hardcore place in California, Hawaii, or New York City and Midwestern stuff regularly pales by comparison.
In fact, there’s something fundamentally misguided about eating sushi in the Midwest. Great sushi is predicated on freshness of fish and mastery of technique, two things greatly improved by proximity to where the fish actually live and are caught.
Therefore, you’ve gotta hand it to Origami: They’re doing a heroic job considering the constraints. Sushi at Origami stands up to the stuff served at a good neighborhood restaurant on either coast — while it’s not going to equal what they’re serving at Jewel Bako in Manhattan or Sushi Ota in San Diego, it’s competitive and at the top of the local sushi food chain.
Sushi fans are rightfully obsessed with fish, but less glamorously, the food also lives and dies based on its rice. Bad sushi rice* can taste sour, heavy, and/or doughy, and drag down even the best fish. Ideally, sushi rice is light on the palate and sticky, a bit sweet and a tiny bit tart. Origami nails it, and this alone makes it a worthwhile destination for the locally based sushi nut.
Another clincher: Origami is dedicated to the practice of omekase — literally, entrusting yourself to the chef’s hands. Give the sushi chef at Origami a general price range and any dietary concerns and he’ll prepare you a multi-course sushi tasting that shows off the best of what’s fresh. It’s a more intimate and entertaining way to dine than simply ticking off various rolls and nigiri off of the menu, and a lot less work. Trust the chef, and the chef repays that trust.
While nigiri or sashimi are the best places to understand the fish that a sushi joint is using, a simple California roll is a good place to start evaluating a restaurant’s approach to sushi overall: You’ve got the challenge of balancing multiple ingredients (crab, avocado, cucumber, rice, smelt roe) and creating a package where each aspect shines through. Origami’s California Maki ($7.25) passes the test with flying colors, and the crab even tastes real; many places sub in a fish-based substitute.
Nigiri tasted fresh and light, although not transcendently so — there’s no shame in the fish served at Origami, but it’s not world class. To the restaurant’s credit, it’s a reasonably good value for what you get — generally more expensive, for example, than a place like Sushi Tango or Midori’s Floating World Cafe, but a clear cut above in terms of quality. Also, and this can’t be emphasized enough: Origami is located 1,000+ miles away from the nearest ocean. It’s a modern miracle that the fish is as fresh-tasting and nicely handled as it is.
Main dishes are generally good, although St. Paul’s Tanpopo tends to tackle similar katsu and/or noodle dishes with more subtlety and skill. If you’re going to eat sushi, however, and you can’t hop a flight, Origami should be your first — and arguably, only — stop.
*”Sushi” actually refers to the vinegar-treated rice and therefore “sushi rice” is kind of redundant. Still, saying “sushi rice” is less confusing than calling what we know as sushi “sushi with fish.”
Japanese in Downtown Minneapolis
30 N 1st St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
OWNER: Kiminobu Ichikawa
Mon-Thu 11am-2pm 7 5-9:30pm
Fri 11am-2pm 7 5-10:30pm
BAR: Full, good sake selection
RESERVATIONS: For parties of 10 or more
ENTREE RANGE: $15-$40