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Oct 20, 2009 09:57 PM

My food experience at Obento Ya (MSP)

In regards to my last sushi and question thread, I found myself at Obento Ya on a droll Tuesday evening. Japanese food is my new conquest , since the cuisine has been largely left out of my food experiences. I told myself I didn't like it. Through Obento Ya, I experienced the meaning of food experience, and acquired tastes.

My companion I are fond of small plate eating, and were delighted to find quite the small plate variety at Obento Ya. Obento Ya is a little out of the way place in SE Minneapolis, and it's atmosphere is that of a small cafe/sushi bar. Very quaint and pleasant. The waitress was friendly, and good about answering my sushi questions. I told her I was somewhat of a sushi noob, and this would be my first place to eat "good" sushi. She helped me along the menu, and agreed the Unagi Nigiri (Eel on top of rice, wrapped with a small strip of nori) is good for beginners, because the eel is slightly cooked, and the sauce is sweet. She also agreed the spicy salmon or tuna Maki rolls (wrapped with nori - which i haven't had great experiences with) are good, recommending the salmon over the tuna because it has avocado in it. And avocado rules. After much mulling over the variety of things to get, we finally decided.

I opted for:

The Spicy Salmon roll
Chicken Katsu (japanese frying method, usually with breadcrumbs, and they have varieties such as eggplant, scallop, etc)
A Scallop Tempura (tempura is an egg based batter, in which the items are fried.) These were all small plates, so you get one item apiece, besides the sushi of course.

My companion opted for:

Petite Katsu (a variety of vegetables, katsu style)
Eel Nigiri (yes! I got to try some of his!)
a Japanese Pumpkin Tempura
Yakitori Trio (grilled skewered chicken-different parts offered, such as thigh etc. He opted for the thigh portion.)
And we split an order of gyoza (pan fried dumplings, usually with pork and veggie mixture, all ground up.)

I introduce, in no particular order!

Spicy Salmon Rolls
These were very, very good. I did not taste the kind of "fishy-ness" I have previously had with every other sushi I've eaten. There is a delicate flavor, but it's natural and fresh. I am pleased to say I did not get a hint of the unpleasantness I normally have from the nori. I did have to pull at it with my teeth (as I struggled with at Oishi), so decided to go for it and eat the whole piece at once. While it does fill my mouth extremely full of food, (making me feel kind of...rude,) it also gave me a lush sushi experience. The salmon and avocado texture was VELVET. The spicy sauce came through light, but definite. I also ate more wasabi than I have before - putting a tiny ball on the end of one chopstick before picking the piece up and dipping it in the soy sauce. It was a perfect compliment to the flavor combination, adding a sharpness to remind your senses to come back home and evaluate what's in your mouth. Lovely.

Unagi Nigiri
These were just awesome. One thing I love about certain sushi's is the sesame seeds. That flavor pops right off. I then immediately tasted the eel - which had a more fishy flavor than the salmon, but it was slight and pleasant.. The texture was soft, and the sweet and salty eel sauce on top is the perfect partner to the sticky rice and eel flavors. I totally loved this!

I have had these before, and I must say I found these to be bland. The sauce was the same as anywhere, just a less salty/more sweet soy sauce. I didn't get the crunch from the edges like I did at Oishi, so I would have to say I prefer that gyoza over these.

Petite Katsu
I don't really know what vegetables these were, but I ate a few bites of the one.... I think it was zucchini? I didn't care for it much. It didn't suck, but it was kind of watery and not much katsu or vegetable flavor coming through.

Scallop Tempura
This was gorgeous. The tempura came through nicely, and scallop absolutely melted in my mouth. Scallops are a favorite of mine - with their mild, light, almost buttery flavor. The tempura definitely didn't take away from this, and stayed crispy outside of the soft center. The only complaint I had is the sauce - for a tempura dipping sauce, it was quite mild and did not add to nor take away from this dish.

Chicken Katsu
My first Katsu ever - and it really is just like a great fried chicken item. Nothing too "asian" about it, except the cooking method being different from ours. Imagine the most flavorful, moist piece of white fried chicken you've had, but with lighter and less greasy - and you have this! It was fantastic, but my real praise goes to the sauce! The only way I can describe is: japanese BBQ sauce. I ate the entire dish of sauce with my chicken. It was very nice.

Japanese Pumpkin Tempura
I found this to be complex, and maybe too much for me to evaluate yet. It tasted like tempura potato, but without a lot of potato flavor. It was slightly squash-like, and I really don't like squash. This was just so-so. I much preferred the Moto-i tempura sweet potato, it had much more depth of flavor and was well defined.

Yakitori Trio
I had these at Moto-i, and found them to be...just grilled chicken. Which it is - but these were much more flavorful. The sauce tasted like a mix of soy and sweet sauce, but it actually permeated into the chicken a bit. The char is well defined, and the grill tastes lingers on your palette for a few minutes after eating it. Very well done.

After this feast, the waitress asked if we would like dessert. I wasn't expecting them to have dessert, so I asked about what they had. I usually never get dessert, but upon hearing CHOCOLATE BANANA CREPES, I buckled. I did not regret this decision upon viewing it - HOLY Mama! Crepes are another "new to me" thing. I had one at the State Fair (chicken and pesto) and loved it. This was my first dalliance with the sweet side, and man was it amazing. Very simple, with sliced banana's, whipped cream and decadent chocolate ice cream inside. The whip cream had to have been homemade or something, it had that sweet, creamy flavor that a good whip cream should deliver. There was plenty of ice cream. So much it came out the sides, to my delight! Seriously would go back there just for this dessert.

Overall, I had one of the best restaraunt and food experiences ever at Obento Ya. As I explore and learn more about (some) Japanese foods, I find them mysterious, sexy, and delicious. I am still iffy (or downright frightened) of some Japanese cuisine (octopus pancake ball??) However, we are in this awesome honeymoon phase where the heights of our passion know no limits.

Obento-Ya Japanese Bistro
1510 Como Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

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  1. Terrific report!

    We eat at Obento-Ya pretty often, but after our first few visits, I find myself ordering the same group of items (Tara Bento, a bunch of Nigiri, Takoyaki (the octopus pancake you mentioned), Udon, and Agedashi). It is fun to see that so many of the other menu items we neglect are just as tasty.

    It is also terrific to see you give it a shot. I'd certainly recommend the tara (black cod) bento and the pancake ball. Since you liked the scallop tempura, octopus/squid/cuttlefish is a natural progression. White, mild, and easy to turn into a rubber ball unfortunately. Luckily I've not found Obento to make this mistake.

    Additionally, their sake trio is a super bargain.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Foureyes137

      We go to Obento-Ya pretty frequently for lunch. I find the Mackerel Bento to be amazing. The fish is perfectly done: crispy on the outside and melty on the inside. The potato salad is something of dreams.

      Also very good are the Udon and Soba soups. The udon with the fish cake is my favorite. My brother LOVES the tempura soba. He lived in Japan and says it is very, very good.

      The sushi is great. The green tea is great. And the service is great. I just need to make it over there for dinner some time to try the small plates.

    2. I've had one visit to Obento Ya and it was...uneven. I really enjoyed some portions, but some were big time let downs.

      I'm definitely planning on going back, and there was plenty on the menu (including the famous Bento boxes) that I didn't get to experience.

      And just to clarify, GI meant NE Minneapolis, not SE. Obento Ya is on Como just north of Dinkytown/Stadium Village.

      3 Replies
      1. re: BigE

        Technically, this is in SE Minneapolis, not NE. Como is a SE neighborhood (South of Hennepin).

        1. re: Foureyes137

          Thank you everyone! And BigE, it's funny you mention that - despite the address stating it is in SE Mpls - I did note to my companion that I don't consider it SE. The area really has a NE "feel" to me, so I refused to consider it as SE, despite the address. LOL!

          I will get to the octopus ball -in time, in time.

          1. re: greenidentity

            thanks for a great report- this may be a first for the word 'sexy' on this board...I wondered if you've tried Zen Box in the Mpls downtown skyway--they do a good job on the chicken teriyaki and have yakitori too I think- not much for sushi there but it's a unique place, lunchtime only....I love their salad made of super finely shredded cabbage with a great dressing that has carrots and ginger and garlic in it....and something sweet in there too...addictive.

      2. Went to Obento Ya last night. I am glad that there is another Japanese restaurant that isn't just about sushi. I also like the neighborhood feel and prices to match. Service is above average.

        Had a chance to try the spicy tuna roll, which is quite good (the first spicy roll I've had that was at all spicy). Also shared some of the ramen special, which was solid but unspectacular. Apples to oranges, perhaps, but I got much more out of the dishes at Tanpopo.

        The bento box with pork slices (echoing the ramen dish) left something to be desired. The highlights were the Japanese potato salad, which offered something new with each bite, and the pork miso stew, which was savory, homey, and extremely filling.

        The main attraction let me down, however. The pork slices seemed under-seasoned, and was overpowered by the sides. I found myself wishing I had gone for the small plates (I intended to order the octopus pancake ball, but simply forgot to do so).

        I finished off with a red bean tempura waffle. I love savory desserts, but they do require a bit of nuance. In this case, I think a bit more oomph from the green tea ice cream might have made a more successful dish.

        I like Obento Ya in theory, and it's a sharp looking place. I look forward to delving into the sushi and small plates before rendering judgment.

        3 Replies
        1. re: kevin47

          I recently took my 2nd trip to Obento-Ya, and loved it more than the last time. Someone here suggested the Takoyaki (Octopus Pancake Balls) and that was seriously the weirdest thing I've ever eaten. It's all reviewed in my blog. Does anyone know what the Takoyaki consists of? I'm very curious about this.

          1. re: greenidentity

            Here is a great YouTube video by "Cooking with Dog" (as in a dog being the chef) of the preparation:


            1. re: SmartCookie

              I just got around to watching this video - I very much enjoyed it. Very informative- and funny! Thanks!