Roll Reversal

Prefer your sushi straight up? Ba-Gu’s wacky wraps might change your mind about maki.

NORMALLY, WHEN IT COMES TO sushi, we aficionados like to keep things simple. Give us nigiri (fish on rice) or sashimi (fish on absolutely nothing) and we’re happy. Whatever you do, don’t give us wacky. No complicated rolls with cheeky, vaguely offensive names like Godzilla Roll or Toro! Toro! Toro! Or silly ingredients like cream cheese or Nestle Toll House morsels. Or overly fancy constructions—those inside out, upside down, and backward rolls where there is so much rice and fish roe on the outside, and so many soft-shell-crab legs, pieces of lettuce, and tempura shrimp sticking out of the middle that you’re afraid to pick the thing up, lest it burst into pieces all over your lap, forcing you to apologize to your date for being human.

We used to believe in this sushi worldview like the Gospel, like the Constitution. Then we went to Ba-Gu, the new neighborhood sushi restaurant at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. At Ba-Gu (Thai for “my bar”) we fell deeply in love with the complicated roll. And like the new lover who we used to think was weird and stuck up, we can’t stop talking about it. Best sushi in town? Possibly. Definitely worth the trip.

Ba-Gu starts charming you from the moment you walk in. The vibe’s a little disco—in a good way—with its high-energy soundtrack and crisp, updated décor. The place is small, with two long banquettes running along the wall toward the back of the restaurant, where there is a tiny, five-seat sushi bar decorated with funky glass work. The service can be a little haphazard, but everyone who works there is a charmer. Welcome to their labor of love.

Photo by Eric Moore

Feel free to order sushi à la carte, but save space for the rolls (maki). There are familiar ones: the Number 9 Roll (shrimp tempura with salmon and avocado), the Dragon Roll (tuna, spicy mayo, and green onions topped with eel and avocado), and the Caterpillar (eel and avocado), but then, what’s this? The French Kiss? The Sunrise? The Three Wise Guys? Something called Salmon Fever? At first we sniffed and huffed. And then we ate, and couldn’t believe our tongues.

The Sunrise, for example, features seared tuna and grated ginger wrapped in rice and topped with mango. The mango, sweet and tropical, but also strangely like sushi in its firm yet giving texture, makes this like no other roll you’ve ever had, at once strange (fruit on sushi?) and familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a nice piece of tuna dressed with mango salsa. The French Kiss is similarly bizarre and transporting—crab, avocado, asparagus, and cream cheese are topped with cooked shrimp and spicy mayo, which creates a melting, swooning array of flavors that are as decadent as dessert. The Three Wise Guys is also pleasantly overwhelming, with three kinds of fish—salmon, tuna, yellowtail—coated with rice, crunchy tempura flakes, and finished with eel sauce.

Honestly, it’s all pretty ridiculous. Or it would be ridiculous if it weren’t so good. Some rolls misfire, such as the Salmon Fever (too much of a good thing, with fresh salmon, salmon skin, and salmon roe), but the ones that hit, hit hard. We still can’t believe it: when it comes to the complicated roll, we stand corrected.

4741 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis

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