When the first Sarku Japan location opened its doors more than 25 years ago, few people were conscious about the benefits of eating foods without trans fat, MSG, or Play-Doh. With strict standards that call for fresh ingredients and eschew potentially harmful unsaturated fats and additives, the chain has since expanded to more than 200 locations throughout the United States and South America.
The trick to the franchise's rapid success may lie in its ability to prepare traditional teppanyaki grilled seafood and meat without sacrificing nutrition and quality. Cooks prep everything made-to-order, using fresh vegetables and vegetable oil, even in their tempura breaded shrimp. Some locations feature a sushi bar, where chefs hand-roll sushi.
Behind the sushi bar at Suishin Restaurant, chefs prepare hand rolls from a menu of more than 50 different kinds of sushi for onlookers, positioning each piece of sushi and sashimi in artistic displays inside a glass case. At dark-wood tables with leather chairs, sprays of steam blossom from pots of broth, in which crab meat, beef, and vegetables cook. The communal style of eating fuels chatter, which floats past a full bar with purple lighting and sand-hued brick walls. The modern decor complements sleek bento boxes, whose compartments brim with sushi and shrimp tempura. On an outdoor patio, chopsticks click together with the sound of a tap dancer having a pleasant dream, pulling noodles from bowls of ramen-noodle soup.
Presiding over table-side hibachi grills, the chefs at Kobe 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.
moto-i gives diners an authentic Japanese culinary experience without requiring that they leave uptown Minneapolis. Unpasteurized draft sake is brewed inside the izakaya-influenced bar and restaurant; onsite production keeps this staple libation fresh and free of jet lag. Executive chef Omar forges Asian-fusion dishes that meld flavors such as whole fish served with handmade pickles and abura ramen peppered with smoked pork shoulder. Instead of airing football games and soccer matches, the restaurant’s TVs run live and pre-recorded sumo wrestling bouts simulcast from Japan, proving to diners that sports aren’t required by international law to include a ball.
Japanese hibachi-style cooking, or teppanyaki, is a culinary experience wherein chefs cook on gas-heated hotplates in front of diners. After it migrated to a bigger spot in Calhoun Square, Sushi Tango added a set of specialty hibachi tables for close-up savory showmanship. Prep your palate with edamame ($4.95) or pork gyoza (dumplings, $5) before diving into the briny depths of seafood hibachi dinners such as shrimp ($22), calamari ($18), or salmon steak teriyaki ($22). As Sushi Tango's friendly chefs chop and stir together a hibachi full of meat such as your choice of white or dark chicken ($17) or filet mignon ($24), they'll keep things interesting with jokes, culinary sleight of hand, and lightning-quick knife-fu. All Sushi Tango's hibachi dinners are served with green tea, soup, salad, shrimp appetizers, vegetables, and fried or steamed rice. Special combinations such as musta sefu (steak and shrimp, $28) and surf and turf (filet mignon and lobster tail, $36) are also available on the hibachi menu.
Southern-Inspired Food | Local Ingredients | Food Network–Lauded Grits | Acclaimed Chef
What to Drink: Befitting of a place that’s a stone’s throw from Bourbon Country, there's a lengthy list of authentic bourbons to indulge in. If bourbon's not your thing, there’s also an award-winning wine list and a selection of cocktails to whet your whistle. Whatever you order, be thankful for it; back in 1988, Lilly's opened without so much as a wine license.
When to Go: If you’re not in the mood for a big entree, head in on Wednesday evening to take advantage of the Small Plate Wednesday menu, which showcases a rotating selection of shareable farm-to-table dishes. You’ll also likely be treated to a 50% discount on selected bottles of fine wine.
Who's in the Kitchen? Since opening Lilly's, chef-owner Kathy Cary has become something of a regional icon, garnering acclaim for her creative use of organic veggies, free-range beef, and artisanal cheeses. She even landed a feature spot on Food Network's FoodNation with Bobby Flay, where she touted her creamy Kentucky grits and gourmet fried-green tomatoes. Recognized as a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, Chef Cary prides herself on an unbending loyalty to local purveyors within a 90-minute drive of the city.
While You're Waiting
If You Can’t Stick Around: When a full meal just doesn't fit into your schedule, stop into La Peche, a gourmet to-go café that operates in what used to be one of Lilly's private rooms. Chef Cary opened the original La Peche in 1979, and she serves up some old-time favorites such as the strawberry pie.