Get this straight: no sushi. Zen Box, downtown’s newest Japanese restaurant, forgoes the food hipsters’ status symbol in favor of the lunch-counter comfort foods of Nippon. A big obrigato — thank you — for that, and a compelling reason to sign a lease in the Mill District City Apartments it anchors. But that’s not to say the shortorder pub doesn’t attract its share of glam gourmets: The chopstick-wielding table of eight nearby looked like expats from Tokyo Vogue.
Conjure up thoughts of highly evolved drinking and Europe typically comes to mind, with its elaborate wines, aperitifs, digestifs, grappas, vin santo, brandies, vodkas, wine pairings, wine dinners, wine/cheese courses, et cetera. But Japan has its own culture of complex and elaborate drinking, and it’s based not on grapes but on grains—above all, rice. Sake comes in every variety, from sparkling (like Champagne), to sweet and rich (like Sauternes), to dry and stony (like Chablis). Shochu is a stronger alcohol made from rice, and, not unlike vodka, is served ice cold or on the rocks. And, of course, there’s beer, made with rice and malted barley in batches big (Asahi) and small (Hitachino). Naturally, with all this drinking comes eating, and just as the West has bar food, gastropubs, brasseries (named after breweries, after all), and so forth, Japan has its own drinking/food spots, most famously the izakaya, effectively a Japanese brasserie. Before this fall, if you wanted to eat at an izakaya you had to spring for a plane ticket to Tokyo, or at least California. No more! Minneapolis’s first official izakaya has opened downtown by the Guthrie Theater, and if you care at all about Japanese drinking you need to drop everything and get there—immediately.
The Twin Cities long ago got the memo that Japanese food isn't just about sushi and sashimi.
We have Tanpopo, a relaxing and refreshing temple to the holy chewy noodle, in Lowertown. We've got 100 percent authentic teishoku meals (think of them as the Japanese prix fixe) at Sakura. And we've got the little jewel box Obento-ya serving just-right bento meals.