Until Kyatchi came along earlier this year, it seemed inconceivable that my frugal Scandinavian self would ever happily fork over $9 for a hot dog. Never underestimate the source of personal growth, right?
That I would find enlightenment from a hot dog-loving Japanese chef comes right out of left field. Pun (embarrassingly) intended, as chef Hide Tozawa is a baseball zealot — which explains the jerseys, bats and cleats peppering his dining room — and a stickler for quality.
The beef for these snappy-skinned weiners hails from the go-to source for probably half of the premium burgers in this town: Peterson Limousin Beef in Osceola, Wis., and their recipe follows a robust formula that’s more mini-brat than Ball Park Frank.
Rather than resorting to mustard, ketchup or sauerkraut, Tozawa is currently blanketing those frankfurters one of three ways. One is smothered in a slightly sweet curried slaw, and another piles on the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and onions and a swipe of umami-laden Kewpie mayonnaise, a Japanese supermarket staple.
Both are $8, and terrific, but for a buck more you’ll dive into be-all-end-all turf. A dream of an egg salad — that smooth, slightly sweet mayo is the transformative ingredient, and I want to slap it on everything — spills out of the bun, topped with cool avocado slices. It’s as ungainly as it is delicious, and a steal at $9.
Ditto the sushi. Because Tozawa goes to great lengths to source from certified sustainable seafood purveyors, the prices tend to exceed the market average. But it’s worth the investment. The notably pristine fish radiates quality, with the added benefit that it can be consumed with a relatively clear conscience.
That’s just one way this sushi bar delineates itself from the bulk of its competition. Its classicism is another. Those with a hankering for a Dynamite roll should dine elsewhere. Here, the prevailing aesthetic is far more ascetic.
Tozawa and his crew carve glimmering arctic char or buttery hamachi with a couturier’s precision and artistry, and their prowess and passion are a pleasure to behold. By swatting away the distracting folderol that has become the norm across our sushi landscape, they’re giving the fish the dignity it is due.
The menu features a dozen or so standards, but better to place your appetite in the hands of the changes-daily combination platter. Its inventory is subject to seasonal rhythms, and each gracefully arranged assortment emphasizes how this spare, fastidious approach to nigiri and sashimi echoes the revelatory paper cutouts that Matisse created at the end of his long career.
It’s the fish in its most elemental form, an experience reduced to nuances in texture, color and flavor. The minimalist add-ons — sticky rice, punchy wasabi and palate-cleansing ginger — are perfectly pleasant but frequently unnecessary.
The sushi-phobic — and the anti-hot dog crowd — definitely have a place at the Kyatchi (KEY-ah-chee) table.
Pretty much anything having to do with chicken is a must-order, whether it’s the grilled skewers of richly flavored thighs, or the miss-at-your-peril meatballs, their heft accented by hints of ginger and miso. Then there are the bowls filled with a steaming chicken broth, golden and lovingly prepared, an ideal foundation for slurpy ramen and a slab of salty pork shimmering with fat. Wonderful.
Other carefully considered touches impress. Noodles — thin udon, or thickish soba — are chosen for their obvious merits. A fragrant dashi broth — a vehicle for a parade of mushrooms — radiated a smoky earthiness. Tozawa turns to the Petersons for the beef that he barely sears and slices thin, its velvety goodness contrasted by the mild punch of finely grated daikon and pops of sour ponzu.
Another reason to order those hot dogs? They’re served with a dollop of a super-creamy potato salad, which very nearly crosses the line into mashed potatoland but for the addition of carrots and cucumbers; butter and that addictive Japanese mayonnaise also chime in. As for the plate of tart pickles, I could snack my way through them on a daily basis.
Vegetarians, listen up: This is the place for you. Start with skewers of frisky grilled shishito peppers, segue into the gorgeous, sesame-splashed seaweed trio (or the crunchy, sesame-infused turnips and chewy broccolini or Brussels sprouts), and finish with an assortment of exquisite, single-ingredient sushi rolls, including crunchy cucumber, mellow marinated calabash gourd and pickled plums’ rock ’em-sock ’em sour backlash.
A few mistakes
Not everything works. Nothing could mask the fishiness of grilled mackerel, a rare misstep and the polar opposite of one of the kitchen’s most spectacular efforts, a succulent 6-ounce slab of cod, its white, fall-apart essence transformed by a delicate miso glaze and the grill’s heat. A handful of under-embellished rice bowls were more earnest than appealing.
Pretty much anything that touches the deep fryer is a disappointment, including tofu in that spectacular dashi broth, and a dessert of dolled-up mini-doughnuts. Skip the gluey puddings, too.
Kyatchi translates into “catch,” a witticism that tags both fishing and baseball. The let’s-hang-out setting is as personable as the service staff. It’s a not-large storefront — there are maybe 15 tables, plus a modest bar, and a four-seat sushi bar — dominated by a mural (by Minneapolis artist Ken Palko) that incorporates classic Japanese iconography with, yes, baseball images.
Along with Tozawa (a familiar face behind the sushi bars at Fuji Ya, Nami and Origami), this collaborative effort is the work of primary owners and siblings Sarah Peterson and Sam Peterson (her restaurant résumé is as long as your arm, he clocked a decade and a half at First Avenue), with an assist from restaurateur Kim Bartmann, she of Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Stag Supperclub and the nearby Pat’s Tap.
What a dream team. Thanks to them, and to another dozen destinations, a mile-long chunk of Nicollet Avenue south of 35th Street is gaining some serious dining-out momentum. Its like-minded thoroughfare to the north, the stretch of Nicollet that runs from downtown Minneapolis until it abruptly dead-ends into the back of a Kmart store, has been known as Eat Street for what feels like forever.
Right now, the distance between the Eat Streets, official and unsanctioned, is roughly six city blocks and a disastrously located 1970s discount store. At the rate restaurants are opening, Nicollet’s two food-focused segments will undoubtedly connect with each other, psychologically if not physically. Come on, Kmart, tear down that wall.
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