It is not hard to find sushi and related Japanese food in the Twin Cities, even in the suburbs. A quick, off-the-top-of-the head-count yielded eleven such restaurants in Minneapolis alone, and that includes only places that are currently open and whose location I know off the top of my head. St. Paul has its own selection, and there are at least two places in the Mall of America where sushi can be had.
Given this abundance, there may seem to be little need for fanfare when a new Japanese place opens. Not so with Masu, a relatively new Japanese restaurant in northeast Minneapolis. Masu is at Hennepin and University, more or less across the street from the well-known liquor and cheese palace Surdyks.
They specialize in sushi, sashimi, and robata (Japanese street food–small, skewered portions of grilled meat, seafood, or vegetables). There is also a good selection of noodle dishes–one of which (the pork belly ramen) was named a “best bite” by Twin Cities Metro.
Sushi and sashimi are done very well here, but for many diners the robata will be the real surprise. My personal favorite is the addictive ebi maki, skewered shrimp wrapped in bacon; so far, I have not encountered an over-cooked shrimp. (Too many places turn them into rubber.) Like all of the robata, they are accompanied by a tasty ginger-soy dipping sauce.
Cherry tomatoes, quail egg, and asparagus also get the bacon treatment. Another favorite is the beef and burdock (aka gobo), a skewer of rolls of beef and burdock, a crispy root vegetable not dissimilar to water chestnut, but less mealy in texture. The chicken meatballs are nice and fluffy.
Newer items include a very tasty Korean-style short rib.
Noodle dishes consist of a variety of ramen, soba, udon, and yakisoba (panfried soba noodles). There is also a variety of small starters (izakaya), including, among other things, miso soup, tuna tataki, crispy pork kara-age, and Japanese pickles. Steve especially likes the steamed buns: they are warm and thin, but still fluffy, and come with three possible fillings–pork belly, chicken teriyaki, or shrimp tempura, whose crunch contrasts nicely with the bun itself. (Steamed buns come three to an order, but the restaurant will not let you get just one of each.)
The space here is stylish–you’d never know that you were in a former kitchen store. The main dining room is bounded by an open kitchen, a row of sake barrels, and a wall of booths under a montage of munny dolls, decorated by local artists. The back wall is another row of booths over which hangs an immense mural of the upper face of a woman in geisha makeup. Thus her large, dramatic eyes survey everything that goes on in the dining room.
The bar, where the hightop tables (whose stools could stand to have their screws tightened) are, has a row of pachinko machines at one side. More sake barrels above the bar, where there are also two flatscreens, showing Japanese movies and tv shows, mostly monster movies. Some of the content is odd enough that you can sometimes observe a bar full of quiet, wide-eyed people trying to decipher, for example, “Big Man Japan.”
Service has always been informative and friendly. On weekends there is a valet and public parking is nearby. A second location is planned for Mall of America. There is a special late-night menu, with lower prices on some items.