An unlikely izakaya

The end of semester is here! Grading is done, after a few attempts to procrastinate via elaborate cooking projects. And the lights of the cinema beckon to the liberated academic. A friend and I decided to meet for pre-movie drinks and Japanese bar food at the Uptown branch of a respected Minneapolis sushi restaurant, located next door to the cinema. Origami has a tempting happy hour, where several small plates are available for sampling. It does not seem to have renovated its space, however, from a previous incarnation as a frat-boy bar. Never mind. Japan is the land of frat boys par excellence, I have learned from a series of movies. Let’s try out the drinking food.

Tako yaki, or octopus-stuffed fried batter balls, are a must. I also ordered kurobata beef sausage with kimchi and, as an afterthought, Manila clams (never had Japanese-style clams before). The afterthought was the best of all. It is cooked in a Korean-style red paste with plenty of sesame and some pickled cucumber. The takoyaki are sadly mushy, and the octopus is lonely with no ginger or scallion. The sausage is a Polish bratwurst-style hotdog, in full smoky mapled glory, skewered, sliced, and made to masquerade as Japanese. The accompanying kimchi tastes only of salt. My friend is not very impressed with her sushi, either.

I do feel sorry for the lovely Japanese waitress, with her pink hair and assiduous service, who must know well that this is an egregious misrepresentation of her homeland. I wonder if Origami gave its chefs just one lesson in cooking izakaya food, and then left them to their own devices with subpar ingredients. Personally I would inflict on them a 400 page tome on the drinking foods of different cultures where drinking is no excuse for eating garbage. If anything, some of the great cuisines of the Middle East (such as Lebanese and Turkish mezze) are designed to be eaten with alcohol. Japanese izakaya food deserves similar respect. And not all your clientele are 27 year old frat boys, Origami.

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