The torch of sushi has been passed to a new generation. Sushi Tango, on the second level of Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis, is the newest sushi bar in the Twin Cities. As such, it faces a challenge in trying to set itself apart from all the rest.
The tough part about being trendy is that trendy has a short shelf life. Yesterday, sushi was cutting edge. Eating raw fish was bold, daring, living on the edge. Today, you can find sushi in supermarkets. Tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised to find it at SuperAmerica.
Not only is sushi becoming more common, but it tends to be a generic product. When it comes to the basic varieties of nigiri sushi (the kind with rice on the bottom, seafood on top), the sushi is pretty much the same wherever you go. Most sushi restaurants cook their rice the same way and get their seafood from the same suppliers.
So how can the newest entry in the sushi sweepstakes differentiate itself?
Sushi Tango takes dead aim at the MTV generation. The restaurant logo looks like a Japanese manga comic book cartoon character -- cross-eyed and electrified. The soundtrack is more like VH1 -- old hits from the likes of the B52s. On a Saturday night, the amps were cranked way up, and sushi chefs and customers shouted to be heard. On a Monday night, the soundtrack was much lower and at lunch, it was unobtrusive.
This is Japanese dining gone punk: no Zen-inspired aura of serenity, no rice-paper screens, no waitresses in kimonos. Sushi Tango isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea.
As for the sushi, the basic varieties such as tuna, salmon and yellowtail seemed to taste pretty much the same as everywhere else. The fancier specialty rolls such as the California roll (crab, avocado and cucumber, $6), the rainbow maki roll n (crab, avocado and cucumber, wrapped on the outside with five varieties of fish, $15), and the salmon skin maki roll (grilled salmon skin with avocado, asparagus and cucumber, $5.50), also seemed pretty comparable to versions I have had elsewhere, except that these weren't quite as visually appealing. Not bad, just a notch or two less perfect in shape and color than what I have had at other local sushi bars.
I did have a couple of specialty rolls that I have never seen anywhere else -- a tasty "centipede" roll of smoked eel, avocado and cucumber wrapped in slices of fresh strawberry ($11), and a "scorpion" roll filled with shrimp tempura, asparagus and spicy mayo, coated in smelt roe and garnished with soft-shell crab claws to look like a scorpion ($18 -- the most expensive specialty roll I have ever seen.)
On two lunchtime visits, the sushi tasted pretty good, but the presentation was a notch below average. The Tengo maki, avocado, spicy tuna and tuna wrap with wasabe tobiko, didn't look very good. The toro -- fatty tuna -- was delicious, but cost a staggering $11 for two modest-sized pieces.
A few nonsushi entrees are offered, but I can't recommend them. The yosa nabe ($17.50) is a clay pot filled with a couple of sliced shrimp, a couple of mussels, plus small chunks of cod and chicken, tofu, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and cellophane noodles in a bland broth -- not bad, but far less flavorful than the version cooked tableside at Kikugawa.
The bulgogi ($15.75), a Korean beef dish often served at Japanese restaurants, consisted of slices of broiled marinated beef slapped on a plate with steamed carrots and broccoli -- also much less flavorful than versions served at Korean restaurants around town.
The wine list is limited, but Sushi Tango has a full bar and an interesting list of premium sakes, served chilled ($7 to $11), as well as a hot sake and specialty martinis.
I prefer the more sedate surroundings of Origami and Kikugawa in Minneapolis, or Sakura in St. Paul. But if you happen to be in Uptown and headed for a movie, the sushi at Sushi Tango is good enough to recommend.
-- Jeremy Iggers is at email@example.com .