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Minato restaurant, Albuquerque, NM

Alas, Minato Restaurant is closed now. The review below is just a memory.

I'd rather eat good sushi than almost any other cuisine on earth. When I moved back to New Mexico from Silicon Valley, one of the things I missed the most was Japanese food. There are a couple of sort of okay sushi places in Santa Fe, but I'll take Minato of Albuquerque over both of them any day. (Just for the record, both Sakura and Shoko Cafe of Santa Fe consistently undercook the rice. For crying out loud, a Japanese restaurant where they can't cook rice?!)

I consider myself one of the more knowledgeable round-eyes I know on the subject of sushi. I've probably tried 50 different sushi bars over the years, and I've had good and bad. Minato ranks right up there with some of the better places in the Bay Area, in the freshness of their fish, and even in the variety.

This is not a cheap place, especially if you show up with a huge appetite and order sushi by the piece. But if you stick to the menu specials, there are plenty of dishes in the $15--$20 range that are hearty enough to satisfy even a pretty big eater.

If you don't know much about this cuisine, I'd suggest that you get two or more people to get the Treasure Boat for Two, $20 each. This has a goodly portion of excellent mixed tempura (vegetables and shrimp); some chicken yakitori (approximately boneless barbecue chicken morsels on skewers); some first-rate teriyaki beef, made with a fabulous cut of steak; some sashimi (typically raw tuna); a couple of raw oysters; and some fancy fruit for dessert.

For fish fans, try the sushi or sashimi specials. Sushi is bite-sized pieces of fish on little pedestals of sticky rice; sashimi is just the fish, with some shredded vegetables for garnish. If you don't care for fish, try the sukiyaki (a uniquely Japanese beef stew) or one of the teriyaki preparations.

If for some reason you still have some room after the entrees, try the tempura ice cream for an unusual dessert. They freeze the ice cream rock-hard and then dip it in tempura batter and quick-fry it. The ice cream is still frozen when it gets to your table.

If you are feeling adventurous (and rich), try some of these uncommon dishes at the sushi bar or order them by the piece from your table:

Minato has some really bizarre things like uni (sea urchin gonads) and natto (fermented whole soybeans) and French-fried shrimp heads. Some of these things are really gross, but you might like them anyway. How will you know if you don't try?

Natto, in particular, is nasty stuff. I learned about it one night at Minato from this round-eyes sitting next to me at the sushi bar. He said most Japanese don't even care for this stuff. Once when he ordered it, the entire kitchen staff came out to watch him eat it. They couldn't believe he actually liked it. I understand they make it by burying some soybeans in the back yard for a few months. It is vile-looking, brown and slimy. I kind of like it, despite the unappetizing appearance. It reminds me somewhat of Vegemite: anything that smells that much like a marsh must be good for you.

Whenever I think about their French-fried shrimp heads, I have to smile, thinking about a slightly squeamish woman who was sitting next to me one night at the Minato sushi bar. I was chewing on a shrimp head, holding it by a bundle of attractive little orange-and-white striped antennae, and she got up and moved to the other end of her party.

Directions: from the corner of Juan Tabo, go west on Montgomery about two long blocks and turn right into Minato Center.

See also: Shipman's favorite Albuquerque Japanese restaurants
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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2005/04/26 20:56:57