Masu Raises the Bar on Japanese Bar Food

Masu Raises the Bar on Japanese Bar Food

To sushi, add izakaya munchies.

There were sheepish looks across the table as the waiter at Masu made room to set down the seventh and eighth courses. But he was unfazed: “Let me know when you’re ready for more.”

The menu of izakaya dishes—pickles, dumplings, tempura, and other crunchy, flavor-packed snacks—is meant for grazing. It’s Japanese pub food. Indeed, it prompted an order for a round of bright, clean Sapporos after the first few bites.

Tsukemono, pickled vegetables, set the stage for duck gyoza, ordinary-looking potstickers, but filled with smoky, rich duck spiked with ginger. Briny tuna jerky came in a showy, volcano-shaped cooker. Hot avocado and oyster tempura went fast, the avocado holding together in its crispy batter just long enough to reach the tongue and melt away.

Stephan Hesse, Masu’s corporate executive chef, places izakaya food in a trend of small-plate dining that started with the popularity of tapas some years ago and is now firmly established: “Everyone can enjoy a bunch of different flavors without having a huge plate of food.”

But izakaya is now a trend in its own right. Uptown’s Moto-i—which bills itself as the first sake brewpub outside of Japan—has been serving izakaya-style food since 2008. And this summer, John Ng and Lina Goh, co-owners of the Minneapolis skyway eatery Zen Box, will open Zen Box Izakaya in the Mill District. No sushi, but plenty of small plates to share, Goh says: “We love to eat and hang out with our friends, have a beer or a glass of wine and talk. It’s our dream hangout.”

Masu Sushi & Robata
330 East Hennepin Ave