Speaking generally, the more cuisines attempted by a restaurant, the less faith you should have in its ability to deliver delicious — or even edible — food. The pan-national buffets that mar Lake Street are the ultimate realization of the dangers of generalization: Yes, you’re technically serving dishes from nine different nations, but all you’re accomplishing is insulting a much broader swath of cultures than had you stuck to, say, chicken fried rice.
On face of it, then, the transition from True Thai to the recently opened Thai-Japanese Sober Fish on Franklin Avenue should have been a palpable step down for the neighborhood. But it’s not. While the Thai cuisine of Sober Fish doesn’t quite equal the zest and brightness of True Thai during its late-oughts heyday, the food is made with real care and skill, and the Japanese aspect of the restaurant is eminently solid as well. The experience of its owners may have something to do with its bright start: Sober Fish was opened by the brother- and sister-in-law team of Elle Kunsawat and Pao Thao, owners of East Side Thai in St. Paul and Sushi Tango in Uptown and Woodbury, respectively.
Sober Fish’s interior makes as much sense as its name doesn’t, which is to say quite a lot. The dining room feels simultaneously roomy and cozy, with multiple levels and partial partitions helping the space feel both comfortable and mindfully designed. Thai photographs and Japanese prints complete the look, which is engaging without being busy.
The Thai dishes we ordered at Sober Fish were consistently tasty, across the board, from spring rolls ($3.50, two photos up) that popped with bright, herbal, salad-in-a-rice-wrapper liveliness to gently chewy, flavorful pad see yew ($11) to a massaman curry ($13, above) that made up for whatever it lacked in raw heat with an amiable depth of spice and understated peanut kick. Too often Thai peanut curries are made to taste like melted Jif to appease sugar-ravenous American palates; this one tasted soothing and mellow.
Sober Fish’s sushi was cleanly prepared, fresh tasting, well balanced, and strong across the board, a performance that puts it in solidly second-tier territory, citywide. Aka mutsu nigiri (recommended by our waitress, to her credit) was buttery and rich, and the cuts of unagi (eel, above, $5.50) that we received on our nigiri were beefy and beautifully cooked. Most of the rolls we tried ranged from good to excellent. The #9 roll ($15), a shrimp tempura with avocado-driven super roll, was particularly tasty, although we found a Drunken Master roll ($16, below with some tasty hamachi nigiri) to be overproduced and far too spicy to enjoy.
If Sober Fish is the future of fusion food, bring it on — we’ll keep rolling the dice.
Thai and Japanese food in the Seward neighborhood
2627 E Franklin Ave
ENTREE RANGE: $11-20
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes
OWNERS: Elle Kunsawat and Pao Thao
RESERVATIONS/NEEDED: Yes / Weekends
PARKING: Street, reasonably easy to find