MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is a deceptively simple menu with just 10 items, but what John Sugimura and Xiaotung Huang are doing with their Minneapolis restaurant PinKU Japanese Street Food is far from simple.

“We wanted to edit the menu so I could look you in the eye and say ‘I love every one of these, and here are the reasons,'” Sugimura said.

PinKU opened in northeast Minneapolis in a tiny 1000-square foot storefront across from Surdyk’s Liquor in the middle of 2016. In six months, it’s already won over food critics and diners.

“I’m doing the recipes and rituals to keep them alive,” Sugimura said.

He was born in Minnesota, works as an advocate for people with autism, and an aide to former a Minneapolis mayor, but kept feeling a pull to connect with his heritage, and connect with his love of Japanese cooking.

“I did Japanese cuisine for fun. My grandmother was a sushi master before World War II. She lost her restaurant, went into the [internment] camp. Came out and did another restaurant,” he said.

After doing private cooking to test out recipes, he decided to open his own restaurant.

“It’s going really well. What’s really well? We’re serving food that we’re proud of everyday. The measure is: Would my grandmother be proud of the food we’re serving?” Sugimura said. “And she would be.”

The menu includes shrimp, scallops, and tuna – served in sushi, or crispy rice, and radish noodles.

“If you like spicy tuna, you’re used to eating bits and scraps collected all week and they just added with a little bit of mayonnaise and sriracha. This is the real thing. This is my master teacher’s great grandmother’s recipe,” he said.

In 6 months they’ve sold 35,000 of the spicy tuna on crispy rice dishes,which is a lightly crisped rice patty, topped with tuna, a jalapeno and shredded radish.

“You’re surprised how much stuff you get from it,” said Sugimura, referring to the contrasting textures and flavors in each bite.

The salmon gets a slight sear from a kitchen torch, before resting on a pillow of a rice cake. The pot stickers are hand-made every day.

“This should be exactly the thinnest possible skin. It’s all about the filling. Protein is pork, green onion, garlic chives, some sesame chili oil, perfectly steamed, then perfectly grilled,” he said.

Unlike other restaurants that drop a frozen potsticker shell in a fryer, PinKU steams the pot sticker, and then grills it on just one side. That gives you a contrast of soft and crunchy.

According to Sugimura, the most popular Japanese street food item is the jumbo crispy shrimp.

“It was the last thing to add to the menu … If you came to my house, I’d cook two or three pounds … and people would eat 10 of them. I should have known how popular it would be,” he said.

The crispiness is what makes it special: there’s no breading on the shrimp. PinKU pounds the shrimp flat to create a larger surface area for the potato starch topping. More crunch, and more shrimp.

“Everybody loves shrimp, and what you see there is all shrimp, not breading. And it’s tasty,” he said.

Just like the food, the artwork in the restaurant also transports you from the streets of Minneapolis to the streets of Japan. The first PinKU, but maybe not the last.

“We want more. Because we want to share this story,” Sugimura said.

PinkU Japanese is located on 20 University Ave.

Jason DeRusha

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