On one of those bone-cold nights in December, I stopped in at A25, Azia’s newly renovated sister sushi bar. Bundled as I was, the short drive there had my shoulders hunched to my ears, my jaw muscles tight with Minnesotan stoicism. It didn’t seem the appropriate night for sushi, to be quite honest, and I said so to my dining companion, who merely hmm’d in response. I believe he would have said more, but it was really too cold to talk. The instant we opened the door, I changed my mind. A25 is irreverently festive, with cheerful orange paper lanterns and faux graffiti on its brick walls.
Best of all, our server quickly introduced us to the unique cocktail list. Though each is created entirely from authentic Japanese ingredients—many of which tend to be sweet—A25’s drinks have a complexity and a subtlety that I found very welcome. We tried Adachi ($7.50) and Itabashi ($8.50) martinis. The gingery Itabashi was tempered with soothing toasted green tea, while the Adachi blended sake, lychee, and lemon into a nimble cocktail that is the perfect blend of tart and sweet.
My last remnant of winter chill melted with A25’s Miso ($3, complimentary with sushi), which has a depth and earthiness in the broth that one doesn’t find often. In so many sushi restaurants, miso is miss-able, but at A25, it actually was difficult for me to resist consuming it all. Superego ultimately prevailed over id, or I never would have made it to the sushi menu.
A25 boasts the largest and most in-depth sake menu in the Midwest, but my companion and I were sold on Minato Harbor ($14/54), which I probably would order again on a return visit. Minato just came from Japan in November, and at press time, New York City was the only other place in the United States one could order it. That may change as word gets out—Minato is astonishingly full and round, with a beautifully dry finish. It is a lovely sake to enjoy slowly, and one had better, because at 22 percent alcohol, it’s almost too charming.
Our server informed us that Horin ($15/$30) is George Clooney’s drink of choice. I don’t know him personally, but judging from Horin, he likes his sake ultrasmooth, with notes of banana and melon.
Now primed, we sampled Kabocha Dumplings ($6), which offered a rich, velvety squash filling balanced by a ginger and soy dipping sauce. It again was difficult to resist the impulse to finish them all, but now, the food arrived very quickly, so we turned our chopsticks to Baked Salmon ($11). Also listed under Small Hot Plates, it nevertheless could serve as an entrée—flaky salmon, topped with melt-in-your-mouth crabmeat mixed with spicy mayo, is served with brown rice and asparagus.
I hadn’t expected A25’s entrée list to be as thorough and affordable, but I hope Crispy Pork ($13) and Lamb Lollipops ($14) remain on the menu for some time to come. The pork is served a little rarer in the center than many diners may be accustomed to, but with a light crispy breading thick with Asian barbeque sauce, it is simply divine alongside its accompanying shredded cabbage and sushi rice. The lamb lollipops, prepared with sake and a ginger/garlic marinade, are similarly exquisite. Served with green tea sweet potato fries, neither the flavorful meat nor the side needs much help from the soy dipping sauce provided.
Of course, a meal at A25 would not be complete without sushi, and we were treated to an artful Omakase (chef’s choice) platter. Such samplers, which start at $36.95, can be tailored to an individual’s budget. Ours boasted a lobster roll; several pieces of wonderfully thick and moist sashimi; a selection of nigiri; and a garlicky crab/scallop/mushroom dish kept hot over a flame.
The magnificent platter provided the perfect occasion to sip sparkling sake. We were treated to blue Hou Hou Shu ($15), which has subtle notes of pear, and pink Hana Hou Hou Shu ($22), which is perfumed with rose petals, taking on a more lush texture. Either would make a wonderful aperitif, but they are fantastic toward the end of the meal.
We moved quickly into a light dessert of Strawberry Tuxedos ($7.95): four large berries, two dipped in white chocolate, and two in dark chocolate. Our server assured me that the cheesecake is fantastic, but sadly, my companion and I would have been hard-pressed to consume it. Perhaps I will have to try it some other time…on some similarly frigid night. Just thinking back on that meal warms me, body and soul.
A25: Anemoni Sushi & Sake Bar
2548 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.