Tuesday, 03 April 2007

I had some time to kill on my way to see Keb ‘Mo at the new Guthrie, so I decided to take in dinner at Wassbi Japanese Steak House and Sushi. It was kind of on a whim, and despite mixed reviews I had read in the local rags.

I can’t help but compare it to my all-time favorite, Origami, and unfortunately doesn’t quite stack up.

When it comes to sushi in the Twin Cities, everyone buys their fish from one of two wholesalers. It’s all flash frozen immediately after being caught and is almost more fresh than if you bought it at the dock. With this in mind, there are very few ways for one sushi joint to distinguish itself from the rest.

One of those ways, and in my mind the most important, is service. I sat at the sushi bar and the service was very attentive, both from my waitress and from the chef in front of me. Pretty much I didn’t want for anything very long. About the time I’d look up for the waitress, she’d be right there.

The second, for me at least, is ambiance. This could stand improvement. The entrance is not well labeled, and you end up coming in through the bar. That wouldn’t be so bad if the bar, and the aisle around it, were larger. Get a happy-hour crowd in there and restaurant patrons will have to fight their way in and out. Once seated, it’s not bad, but not outstanding either. Tables, chairs, the obligitory bamboo, but nothing spectacular. The metal chopsticks are a nice touch, however.

Lastly is presentation; this includes preparation of traditional staples (ebi and sake nigiri, California maki, and hamachi nigiri are my usual test subjects) as well as specialty dishes. Their spicy tuna roll was good, as was the shrimp, but again not out of this world.

In one of the reviews I had read previously, they mentioned the sauces (flavored mayonsise?) that garnished nearly every dish, but I didn’t experience it myself. Perhaps ordering al-a-cart clues them in, or maybe it’s only used on house specialties. Either way, I was spared — I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to my sushi. .

Prices were reasonable, about $6 for a standard maki and roughly $3 for a single nigiri. Specialty rolls were all $10 or more. Basically the same as every other sushi place in town.

All in all Wasabi was decent enough to go back if you want someplace close to the Guthrie before a show. Personally I’ll stick with Origami for my regular sushi haunt. Their service and food are always impeccable and the ambiance, especially at the sushi bar, is first rate.

Thursday, 26 May 2005

Whether for drinks and appetizers at the bar, a full meal in the dining room, or apres-show dessert, my friends and I will usually stop at Copeland’s as part of our concert night revelry.

Copeland’s Minneapolis location is located Downtown on 7th and Hennepin in the space formerly occupied by the ill-fated Nankin Chinese Restaurant. Set in rich reds, pinks and burgundies, with high ceilings, the atmosphere is pleasant, but can be a bit loud when it gets busy.

This time we skipped appetizers, so I ordered my favorite, the Pasta Shrimp Copeland ($14.99) led by a house salad ($3.99) with bleu cheese dressing. Hjalmer went with a steak filet and a salad.

A word about house salads (because there’s not much else to say about them): Really, they’re all the same. Lettuce, a couple tomato wedges, cucumber slices, shredded carrot, and croutons. The dressing, no matter what your order, doesn’t come in enough quantity, which is OK since it’s usually pretty unremarkable too. Copeland’s certainly lived up to these minimal expectations. After all, how hard can it be to make a salad?

Likewise, as long as their cooked properly, steaks are pretty easy to deal with. Hjalmer’s was no exception and he enjoyed it. Personally, I think they’re a bit pricey at Copeland’s and you’ll get better value at Mancini’s or Lindy’s.

The Pasta Shrimp Copeland is shrimp and mushrooms sauteed in a cajun garlic sauce and served over a bed of angel hair pasta. The shrimp are just slightly sweet and act as the perfect counterpoint to the mild zing from the sauce. In my mind, you can’t go wrong with this dish. That could explain why it’s my favorite and I take a pass on the specials.

On previous visits I’ve tried their Creole Calimari appetizer, the Gumbo Ya Ya ($4.99 bowl/$6.99 big bowl), which were both exceptional. The calimari ($7.49) comes lightly battered and fried with a Creole Remoulade Vinaigrette sauce that’s delicious. The gumbo is a nicely spicey (although I end up adding hot-sauce) Cajun roux with plenty of shrimp and scallops. A bowl makes a perfect replacement for a salad and the big bowl is enough for a complete meal.

If you’re there for dessert, you absolutely must try their Bananas Foster Shortcake ($6.99)! Made with their homemade biscuit, vanilla bean ice cream, banana halves (lengthwise), and traditional sauce of brown-sugar, dark rum, butter, and banana liqueur. It’s a huge portion, served on a large plate, and is truly enough for two. Mere words cannot begin to describe how good this is—it must be experienced first-hand.

Normally the service is first-rate, prompt, and courteous. Unfortunately, on our latest trip it was less than we’ve come to expect from Copeland’s. The hostess was barely polite—for what little she actually spoke. Somehow I got the sense that we were inconveniencing her by requesting a table.

I’m not sure if the server hadn’t yet learned timing because he was new, or if he was looking to get out of there early, but by the end of our meal we felt a bit rushed. Our drink order and salads came promptly, but we had barely put fork to plate when the entrees arrived. Working around the overcrowded table we wolfed down our salads in an effort to get to the main course before it grew cold. The pace added to our discomfort as the server twice tried to clear plates when we had just started a mouthful of food and clearly weren’t done.

The restaurant was suitably staffed, mostly empty, and it was well before closing, so the less-than-stunning service really caught me by surprise. Previous visits have demonstrated that Copeland’s is capable of better.

The food could convince me to go back, but the experience as a whole gives me cause to consider a different venue for the next pre-show gathering place.