Masu Sushi & Robata

Game-changing Japanese

The big news in Minneapolis in April was the opening of Masu Sushi & Robata, the Japanese restaurant in northeast Minneapolis shaped by Tim McKee. I say shaped because although the restaurant is owned by Sushi Avenue, an Eagan sushi supplier to grocery stores, McKee designed the cooked part of the menu, while Asan Yamamoto, formerly of Origami, created the sushi menu.

I went the first week Masu was open. (I know, shame on me, but I couldn’t wait—the Japanese food here has been weepingly dull lately.) My visit revealed great promise and also great opening awkwardness. The place was mobbed. They were out of a lot—no abalone sushi, no sea urchin—and the servers seemed alternatively frenzied and paralyzed by fear. That said, a few of the dishes at Masu are local game changers, especially the ramen.

If you haven’t been following the food press the last few years, you may not know that ramen—chef-made, not dry-packet—has been the darling of the food world ever since New York chef David Chang started serving it with fatty pork-belly slices. The pork-belly ramen at Masu has broth that is rich, meaty, and sea-accented, and the plush slices of fatty pork belly and shoulder that animate the broth are nothing short of swoon-inducing. That’s good soup. It also comes with a barely poached egg, which you break with a spoon to further enhance the broth: it’s a spectacular moment. There’s also a mushroom-based version of the ramen (also with a poached egg). And for anyone seeking spice, I thought the curry ramen was also magnificent, deeply spicy and topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet.

The robata part of the menu includes grilled appetizer-like offerings that the Japanese eat as casual snacks with a beer. These items were either fantastic (whole grilled sardines, crisp and smoky) or fall-asleep dull (grilled eggplant). The sushi didn’t seem any better than most options in Minneapolis. When I return, I’ll try the more interesting rolls, like sea urchin with yuzu-accented flying-fish eggs, to see if that improves my impression. Till then, get the ramen!

Masu Sushi & Robata, 330 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-332-6278, masu­