Last night CG and I went to moto-i. The concept is a sake brewpub, or Japanese izakaya. It is located in the old Macchu Picchu place, and I never ate there so I cannot say how much of the old decor, if any, was retained.
CG tried the sake sampler, while I tried the lightest, sweetest of the three homebrewed offerings. I enjoyed the honeydew flavor of mine, and GC enjoyed all three-- the cloudy one was the best in his opinion.
We started with some appetizers.
1) The green curry chicken dumplings were formed with one of those plastic pastry pinchers-- you know, the ones that make the otherwise impossibly even pleats. I wish they had more filling in them, because the taste of what was in there was quite good. The dipping sauce was also lovely and tart, just the way I like it .
2) The steamed buns of the pulled chicken and hoisin pork were really delicious- the buns were folded over the filling rather than having a complete filled bun steamed whole. Not authentic, but a nice twist.
3) We also had the special orange marlin sashimi-- nicely garnished with puffed rice and cilantro oil. So good that we ordered another, but the second wasn't as silky as the first. I don't know if it was a different cut or if our mouths were numbed to the grainy texture of the first by the burning we received from an errantly spicy fried shishito pepper (appetizer 4), usually quite flavorful and fruity without being spicy, as anyone who has eaten them at Porter + Frye can attest. We were suffering for some time.
Entrees came next. Drunken noodles (which are usually quite spicy) were not spicy in the least-- not even by Minnesota standards. I thought they were tasty, with a nice kaffir lime kick, but CG was disappointed. My disappointment stemmed from the complete lack of salt in my yellow curry noodles (as if they'd completely overlooked the soy and fish sauces), and the beef was surprisingly tough. I mentioned it to the manager, who seemed surprised yet apologetic. She was quite interested in our feedback, which I appreciated.
I'd return for more appetizers, but probably stay away from the noodles next time.
Paid a Visit to Moto-i this afternoon. The space is gorgeous, inside and out. There are serving windows between the bar and three of the booths, a fabulous touch that opens up the lower room. There is table shuffleboard, which I always find delightful.
I tried the Nigori (cloudy) and the hot Sake, both of which are outstanding. Each exhibits a great balance between delicacy and complexity. I haven't found better in town. The beer selection is also outstanding, and the bartender was able to make competent recommendations from the taps.
The food, on the other hand, wasn't very good. The sashimi offering was nice, but for $12, you had better rock my socks off in that department.. It was advertised as toro, and I'm sure it was, but does a restaurant with only one raw offering source the best toro in town? It tasted like a solid tuna sashimi platter to me.
We ordered the fried pepper appetizer, which was utterly bland. It needed more sea salt, which is not something I should ever have to say about fried peppers. The bartender recommended a hotter pepper appetizer at Chino Latino, which is an odd thing to do.
The hoisin pork bun tasted precisely like it sounds. Pork + Hoisin + Bun. No complaints, I guess. The drunken noodles were gingery, and not much else. I had heard quite a bit about this dish, positive and negative, and I am not sure what the fuss is about. The noodles are a bit on the brothy side for my taste, since it isn't a soup offering.
Lastly, we tried the meatballs, which aren't on the menu, but are expected to be part of the patio offering. According to the bartender, the restaurant is considering a grill menu for the patio when it opens in May. The meatballs were solid (basil, basil, basil) and I think BBQ suits the restaurant's reliance on hammering one spice home to deliver the meal. Full bar will be offered, though the bar will be one floor below to avoid Stella's mistakes.
love love LOVE Moto-I. Great addition to the MSP food scene. Chowspouse and I had the same disappointment regarding the spice levels in the food. Our waiter - Minnesota farm boy through and through - made some recommendation for "spicy" food that was, well, not. On the other hand, the yakimono is pretty tasty, and the seared tuna is great.
But otherwise, it is a fun place. Sake is great. All local beers on tap.
As for the decor - completely new top to bottom.
By the way, there's a local sake brewers club that meets there periodically! Fun!
Also, according to their web site, they offer an 8-hour seminar on sake making, that includes a book, brewery tour, 20 sake tastings, and lunch.