I had only met sushi a couple of times, and they ended with hard gulps and laboured face muscles. Raw fish: Just, think about that for a second. I used to think of sushi and see nasty, Mercury-soaked, raw friggin’ fish. I would have gone the rest of my life that way had I not Plinko-chipped into Akita Sushi a couple of weeks ago.
Now, sushi and I have what I would call “an understanding.”
The Basics: Akita Sushi sits on the corner of Bielenberg Drive and Tamarack Road in Woodbury. The website gives you everything you need right on the front page, with quick buttons for their two menus: All-you-can-eat and a la carte. The all-you-can-eat menu sounds like a steal at $25 a plate, but I’d get familiar with their food before diving in as a 15% surcharge gets lopped on for “excessive waste of food.” You don’t want to experiment here.
Woodbury restaurants look frightening similar on the outside. They’ve got similar fonts, similar shapes, and emit that same “faux fine dining” miasma. Ronnally’s aside, you just don’t hear people getting excited to eat in Woodbury. There’s always a restaurant in Minneapolis or St. Paul serving the same food with more buzz, and you just can’t help getting in on the conversation. Eating out in Woodbury has to happen on accident … which is exactly how I stomped off snow in Akita’s front lobby.
My commute left me thirsty and pissy after finding the Tavern Grill gorged with people. My wife had attended happy hours at Akita in the past with her co-workers, so I fishtailed my lil’ caboose into the Tamarack Hills shopping center. There, between Advancements in Dermatology and Ideal Image body hair removal (this alignment is VERY Woodbury), sat Akita.
“Great!” I thought. “I hope I made happy hour!”
Akita: NOT a bar. I mean, they have a bar, sort of, but this is not a bar. If you’re looking for a place to get swervy and swear at a sports team in your angry Elmo voice, Akita is not. When I told the hostess I’d just sit at the bar, she looked at me like a stoner in the Dorito’s aisle before leading me to the “bar.” In front of me were three men speaking Japanese and preparing sushi.
The bar, and these men, was situated inside of a wooden-plank pagoda from which decorations hung from the beams. I enjoyed the building-within-a-building system. While most Asian restaurants play the same sleep-inducing twang over the speakers, Akita kept time with (I think) Japanese pop tracks. My stomach alien noticed the food being prepared, and hunger crept in.
I ordered a 22-oz Sapporo and texted my wife to stop by after I was given the menus. She showed up and … yeah, she was kind of hungry. She never wanted to try sushi in front of her co-workers because she didn’t feel comfortable hating food in front of them. I had convinced myself that I hated sushi and would always hate sushi. So how does this change?
You start with Gyoza.
Gyoza are dumplings. More specifically, gyoza are pot stickers – and, while I would merely “enjoy pot stickers,” My wife would merely “slaughter an island village for pot stickers.” Order them, we did; and tasty, they were. There was nary a difference between the gyoza and Chinese pot stickers, but there didn’t really need to be. Six come with an order, and Houdini couldn’t have made them disappear as quickly as we did.
It got us curious. The server came back and we ordered more gyoza, as well as the tempura sampler, because we’re pigs. Within the seven-piece sampler were breaded shrimp (my favorite) and sweet potato (her choice). None of them were bad. The second plate of gyoza, poof.
These were small, inexpensive plates. I point that out because we ordered even more food. Baby steps turned into free-falls.
“Let’s get unagi rolls!” she gushed. “If they’re not cooked right, they can kill you!” YEAH! We also dialed up roasted eel, because we had never eaten eel; and dragon rolls, because we had never eaten dragon.
Akita gets blasted on Urbanspoon for their service. I saw nothing wrong with it, but it was a Thursday night and there was a foot of snow falling. Our server was prompt, and didn’t seem irritated by our questions and sporadic orders.
Completing the plate’s look were dallops of unidentified pink and green matter. The pink matter was pickled ginger, to which my wife made an impressive screw-face upon tasting. What was the green, Play-Dohy little ball?The dragon rolls arrived arranged in a serpentine design, and the eel plate had a syrupy drawing of a branch beneath the meat. The arrangement helped ease my anxieties, to the point I was suddenly eager to dig in.
“Avocado?” I guessed. My wife tried a hunk.
So stung were her taste buds, she needed new chopsticks. They’re served as pallet cleaners, but proceed with caution. I like wasabi, but the pickled ginger tasted almost chemical.
I clamped my chopsticks around my first unagi roll and was the opposite of dead on first taste. They were a little bit sticky, a little bit spicy, and generally made me feel stupid for avoiding this for so many years. I tried the dragon rolls and it got worse (by worse I mean better). Salmon was wrapped around that sticky rice foundation; and tempura shrimp was stuffed in the center with cucumber and avocado (actually avocado this time). It had a subtle crunch, a little kick, and was everything I envisioned sushi to not be.
The roasted eel … I don’t know. It was all right, but the texture was rubbery and the taste underwhelmed with a vengeance in comparison to the rolls. Eat eel to say you’ve eaten eel, but the rolls are too good to stray from.
For four appetizers, two entrees, and three 22-oz beers, our $60 tab ran well below par. Avoid getting sucked into a mega-meal and you could have a beer apiece, split a plate of unagi rolls, and tip for $20. You can do better, but it would have to be during a killer happy hour.
One of the seniors at work, with whom I share food stories – whether or not he wants to hear them – said Akita was “a good start” for someone new to sushi, and I agree. The dishes we ordered were simple offerings, combinations that worked, with nothing too intense. They were a far cry from the sloppy clumps of raw fish I used to envision as my interpretation of sushi.
For now, sushi and I are still a work in progress, and there’s nothing scary about Akita Sushi. Maybe the palate cleansers, but other than that.