When Prime Deli closed more than a year ago, the news shook the kosher-keeping community; after all, it was the only kosher meat restaurant in Minneapolis.
Fast-forward a year, and Prime’s successor, Sato Sushi & American Fusion is open. And if you’re a sushi fan, there’s a lot to like.
Before getting to the meal itself, it’s essential to know that the sushi concept almost never happened. The restaurant owners had tapped Chef Stewart Woodman to lead the renovation of both the space and the menu. However, shortly after the August 2021 announcement, that plan fell apart and, in the winter, the owner pivoted to the sushi concept.
So here’s what worked: the sushi.
OK, so I know that should be obvious. But it’s not. My lunch companion, my friend James Norton, the publisher of the excellent Twin Cities food website Heavy Table, assures me that’s not such a gimme.
Sang Hun Kwon’s sushi had more pluses than minuses. The nigiri in the sushi lunch (an affordable $19) was fresh and showed off excellent knifework. Could’ve used a touch of acid, but overall it was excellent. (Full disclosure: raw fish isn’t my thing and I’m still not sure it is. But the yellowtail I tried was really nice).
The California Roll was also excellent. The freshness of the avocado and cucumber was evident, and the crab all played well together. It was light and fresh and put together in a way that clearly a skilled chef knew what they were doing.
The appetizers were a bit of a mixed bag. The spicy crab wonton had a good cream cheese-to-crab ratio – and both tasted like real cream cheese and crab. (Editor’s note: the cream cheese is non-dairy and the crab is not real, but imitation crab). However, it wasn’t hot (temperature-wise), and even though it’s called “spicy,” there was nothing spicy about it. The pan-seared pepper tuna was good, but a little too dressed up in soy sauce. Both were at least really close to being excellent bites.
The patio was a delight to sit on, even on a cool-ish early fall day. But the service: the less said on that the better. Honestly, I don’t want to be told by the server that it’s his third day (and we were told that, at least four times).
So now to the “American Fusion” part of the name.
Look, I get wanting to have the classic Kosher meat restaurant items on the menu, especially since that type of restaurant isn’t elsewhere in the community. And sushi does make sense; as owner Mayer Roberts explained to me over the summer, there is no pricing up-charge for kosher fish versus non-kosher, whereas kosher meat is considerably more expensive.
But I did try the bistro chicken basket, with the chicken breaded, with fries and the garlic aioli. The aioli was sort of haphazardly drizzled on the chicken and the fries – which looked like really good, battered fries – were room temperature at best. I think the value of the chicken at $18 is definitely there; it’s a good-sized portion.
Maybe the steak or burgers are better than the chicken, but admittedly I wasn’t a fan of the burger at Prime; it was fine. But when most of the restaurant-going public doesn’t keep kosher, it has to be good enough for everyone.
But I think the “Bistro Menu” page of offerings is where things get dicey. Clearly, sushi is the specialty. It’s well-prepared, well-presented, and really tasty. Sato needs to learn the lesson of so many other restaurants that have come before it, and will come after it: stick to what works.