Successful restaurateur Supenn Harrison made her first foray into the restaurant business more than 30 years ago, when she bought a burger joint in the Twin Cities. For Supenn, slinging patties wasn't enough to satisfy her love of the culinary arts; the Thailand native and former teacher quickly traded deep fryers for woks and opened her first Thai restaurant.
She eventually launched the first Sawatdee in 1983 in an abandoned warehouse, transforming the unlikely setting into something you might see in the heart of Bangkok, with gold-leaf ceilings and traditional artwork. Now, Supenn owns seven Sawatdee restaurants throughout Minnesota and has expanded the menu to include sushi dishes. Besides sharing her culinary skills through hands-on cooking classes, Supenn has disseminated her authentic Thai fare by catering birthday celebrations, family reunions, and the Rolling Stones' anti-retirement party.
Tradition informs the menus at Mt. Fuji, which predominantly feature Japanese staples with splashes of French influences. At the Maple Grove location, chefs occasionally leave the kitchen and man the grills that adorn select tabletops. There, they entertain their hungry audiences by searing entrees of chicken, Canadian sea scallops, and filet mignon while correctly naming every gold-medalist from the 1896 Olympics.
For cuisine prepared with an equally artistic flare but fewer open flames, the sushi chefs at each location assemble orders of sashimi and maki. They pack particularly robust flavor into their special rolls by incorporating such ingredients as lobster tempura, deep-fried soft shell crab, and signature sauces.
Presiding over table-side hibachi grills, the chefs at Kobe Japanese Restaurant flip eggs into the air and catch them on the edge of their spatulas. Dramatic culinary displays are performed throughout the restaurant: at the sushi bar, diners watch as cuts of fresh seafood are rolled and arranged into sushi and sashimi. Out of sight, the kitchen staff artistically plates each dish atop bowls and platters nearly as beautiful as the fish and steak they support.
Bartenders shake and stir cocktails that draw their power from fresh juices, or pour Japanese beer, wines, and sake. Even in its quietest moments, Kobe dazzles diners with its booths upholstered with genuine Godzilla leather and whimsical glass lamps, delicate upside-down umbrellas, and giant paper koi that all dangle from the ceiling.
As the sun sets over Lake Minnetonka, the chefs at Sakana Sushi begin to sharpen their knives in advance of the evening’s dinner rush. With a cooler full of fresh fish at their disposal, it’s up to them to turn choice cuts of salmon or yellowtail tuna into artfully arranged orders of maki and sashimi. Their selection highlights the delicate nature of their ingredients, with 16 specialty rolls pairing these tender morsels with premium fillings including lobster, caviar, or Michael Jordan rookie cards. However, the chefs don’t stop at sushi; they embrace Thai recipes when spooning yellow-coconut curry into a stone bowl and honor Chinese flavors in sizzling plates of Sichuan kung-pao steak.
These cuisines' aromas all mingle in the dining room, where four-seat tables extend all the way from the front windows to the open sushi bar at the back. Although pendant lamps illuminate the sushi chefs, the rest of the space is lit by track lighting that remains firmly fixed to the abstract red, green, and blue fixtures that dot the ceiling.
Sushi of Tokyo may actually be located in Plymouth, but nobody is doubting where the restaurant finds its inspiration. Japanese chefs masterfully incorporate raw ingredients such as surf clam, smelt roe, and squid into their nigiri and sashimi. It doesn’t matter that their kitchen is conspicuously lacking in smoke and flames—not when their California rolls taste so good with crunchy cucumbers, imitation crab meat, and sides of salty Pacific Ocean water. Though much of the food is uncooked, the chefs supply ample heat with their spicy lobster salad and udon noodle soups brimming with chicken, veggies, or seafood.
Guests seated at Osaka Sushi and Hibachi’s teppanyaki tables watch as chefs slice and grill pieces of filet mignon, chicken, scallops, and other fine meats. With skillful spatula flicks or regulation slingshots, the chefs then fling the meaty pieces onto plates along with piles of white rice and colorful veggies. Nearby, sushi chefs also impress diners with their culinary precision. After rolling rice around shrimp tempura and spicy tuna, they can transform the bundle into a Christmas roll by adding red, black, and bright-green tobiko. Miniature piles of tobiko victoriously sit atop lobster salad in the Sumo roll, whereas sliced avocado contrasts the light-pink salmon in the Coon Rapids roll.
Aji Japanese Restaurant has garnered praise from the local Hopkins Patch and Lakeshore Weekly News for its menu of colorful sushi rolls and hibachi-seared meats. Artful presentation underscores each concoction—rolls proudly bearing ruby-colored crowns of tobiko or sweet drizzles of eel sauce and hefty steaks and pan-seared seafood sizzling beneath bouquets of leafy garnishes. Imported Japanese beer and sake unite sushi with the flavors for which it was meant, much in the way milk complements cookies or peanut butter complements its secret soulmate, actual butter.
Inside the dining room, white dinnerware contrasts against rich wooden tables. Overhead, carved crimson lanterns dangle from the tin ceiling and golden bulbs illuminate delectable morsels and the gold-plated chopsticks of diners looking to impress their dates. During the warmer months, an outdoor patio mixes meals with fresh breezes.