Azia takes A25 to Japan

When I first heard that Azia owner Thom Pham was going to shut down and remodel Anemoni, his next-door sushi concept, I was dubious. Everyone seemed to agree that Anemoni needed a change -- the question being, what kind of change?

Pham knew he didn't want to repeat the mistakes made at Temple, his upscale restaurant that closed in 2008. With A25, as the new spot is called, Pham has pinpointed what customers like best about his places: a chic experience with casual price points.


A25 opened in December as a cross between Azia and the Caterpillar Lounge (Pham's back-room dance club). While he kept the sushi bar, the room has a repurposed lounge feel, with a new bar and DJ booth. While Azia is all about fusion, the theme here is decidedly Japanese. The aesthetic is meant to evoke an alleyway hangout just off the subway line in Tokyo. The bar's name and logo are taken from a subway route that runs through the famous Asakusa district. A collection of colorful lanterns dangles above, criss-crossing the room on laundry lines.


The new design touches are clever and appropriately cheeky. Street muralist Eric Inkala painted one of his oozing color explosions behind the bar. Artist Eric Carlson wheat-pasted black-and-white manga-style images on one side of the bar's exposed-brick interior.

I think I've found my new favorite bar snack: oxtail steamed buns. They're only $5 on the aggressive happy hour menu (4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close). The dinner menu includes a revamped sushi list, Pham's take on Japanese street food, plus some fusion entrees.

While small, the beer list is craft-focused, with such familiar names as Flat Earth, New Belgian, Tyranena and Bells. Resident mixologist Brad Smith makes house infusions and offers a different cocktail menu in A25. I'm digging his simple but tasty tea-based cocktails.


A25 doesn't have its own restroom, which means you have to open a doorway into Azia, then walk through its bar and dining room before finally arriving at the restrooms. But hey, walking is good for you.


I'm not expecting A25 to spark a revolution of Japanese-style bars (if anything it's piggybacking off of Moto-i's success). But the A25 makeover was definitely the right move for Pham. I never bought Anemoni as a separate entity, no matter how much they tried to sell it that way. A25, on the other hand? Sold.

  • Tom Horgen

Blaze of restaurant glory

Many diners and restaurateurs will recall Sunday as "Fork the Fire" day, when thousands of dollars were raised to help the owners and employees of Blackbird and Heidi's, the two restaurants destroyed in a devastating blaze.

More than 60 Twin Cities restaurants -- Mancini's to moti-i, the Red Stag to Rinata -- pitched in, donating a portion of the day's sales, dedicating the proceeds of particular items, running raffles or conducting other fundraisers. Many restaurants reporting busier-than-normal Sunday sales.

Cafe Twenty Eight in Linden Hills held a $25-a-head open house, with Blackbird chef/co-owner Chris Stevens and his cooking staff in the kitchen. More than 200 people showed up to enjoy pulled pork quesadillas with a sweet pear sauce, fiery peanut noodles topped with fried eggs, duck egg rolls and Surly beer.

"This is really crazy," said Stevens. "How awesome is it to live in this town, where all these people, all these restaurants, come together? It's insane."

Meanwhile, at Mission American Kitchen, owner Anoush Ansari was playing host to chefs from a dozen restaurants as they fed more than 600 guests and raised upwards of $12,000. Heidi's co-owners Stewart and Heidi Woodman started their afternoon at Mission before whirlwinding through Il Gatto, Sea Change, Meritage, Heartland, the Strip Club and Restaurant Alma.

"We really wanted to get around and thank as many people as we could," said Stewart Woodman. "It's all been so overwhelming, but we're certainly in awe of the way people have responded."

Where will the money go? One targeted use is helping employees who have suddenly found themselves minus a steady paycheck. The rest will probably go into rebuilding efforts, if not at the restaurants' burned-out location then somewhere nearby. "We'd like to reopen Heidi's and we're working on a schedule to make that happen this year," said Woodman. "We don't have any information about the status of the building at 50th and Bryant; that's an open equation. Getting back to work is all we're focusing on right now."

  • Rick Nelson

ROBOTlove, meet Pink Hobo

ROBOTlove has long been the center of the vinyl-toy geek universe. Now comes news that the LynLake store is on the move. In June, owner Kristoffer Knutson will relocate to northeast Minneapolis. He'll be partnering with the creative minds behind interactive entertainment studio PUNY and forward-thinking art gallery Pink Hobo. ROBOTlove will share the gallery space and run it "as one big unit." Knutson said ROBOTlove had a tough 2009 at its current location next to the Soo Visual Arts Center. "It's kind of time for the shop to grow into something else," he said. Knutson, a former commercial producer, was also hired as PUNY's managing director. ROBOTlove will have a grand opening in mid-June. "I think it's a perfect fit for myself and the shop," Knutson said. "Everything came together in a kismet kind of way."

  • Tom Horgen

Slug does the dancey dance

Slug of Atmosphere proved just how big a star he is Saturday by making a surprise appearance with the "Yo Gabba Gabba!" kids TV crew at the Target Center. The Atmosphere rapper came out in the second half of the show as the "Dancey Dance" guest, the instructional dance portion that has been filled on the TV show by the likes of Jack Black, Sarah Silverman and Andy Samberg. Slug's routine went something like this: "Stomp! Stomp! Out! In! Out! Now Squish It!" The kids loved it. Slug himself actually seemed a little nervous, but then it's quite a leap from performing with the mostly immobile Ant onstage to dancing goofily with Foofa and Brobee. Slug's teenage son is probably past the age where "Yo" carries any street cred, but it should win Slug points with his new son due in a few weeks.

  • Chris Riemenschneider

Jennifer Garner: enemy of Minnesota

"Juno" was set in the Twin Cities but shot in British Columbia. "Gran Torino" was originally set in St. Paul but shot in Detroit. "New in Town" was set in New Ulm but shot in Manitoba. "Jennifer's Body" was set in Minnesota ... well, let's let that one slide.

Now, the latest insult. The new Jennifer Garner comedy, "Butter," is about competitive Midwestern butter sculptors in their local annual contest. So it's essentially set at the Minnesota State Fair. And where is Garner's production company going to film it?

Louisiana. Where it's hotter than an oil rig fire on July 4th. This is a butter-carving comedy set in a state where the Popsicle time frame is down to 20 seconds.

This is a travesty. Since Garner also co-starred in the runaway production "Juno," she is clearly an Enemy of Minnesota. We are a stoic but proud people, Jennifer; we don't forget such slights quickly. We're done. From now on, you can expect to see us satisfy our appetite for insipid romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon and Katherine Heigl.

  • Colin Covert