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If Ikea sold kits for neighborhood Japanese restaurants, Obento-Ya could be its floor model. The room's design is as boxy as a vintage Volvo, its modern, minimalist look reinforced by the long, straight lines of the bamboo laminate booths, the sushi counter, and the dangling teardrop lights. Tabletops are set with smooth black stones that double as chopstick rests, and with tiny soy-sauce pitchers in bright shades of orange and lime. While the sushi is good, skewered meats and veggies--the grilled robata and their panko-breaded cousins, kushi-katsu--are the stars, especially the chicken yakatori and the bacon-wrapped quail egg. Be sure to order them as a bento (Obento Ya means "bento shop"), as the little boxed meals include not-to-be-missed miso soup, sticky rice, tossed greens, and a scoop of creamy Japanese potato salad that's flecked with crunchy bits of cucumber and apple.
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For many Americans, sushi is the alpha and omega of Japanese cuisine, give or take a bowl of edamame and an order of tempura shrimp. You can get those things at Obento-ya, and they'll be served up with grace, skill, and gusto. But the beauty of this newly opened Japanese bistro near Dinkytown is that its menu is far broader than visitors might expect. Its offerings of robata—delicate skewers of meat or vegetarian fare prepared over an indoor charcoal grill—are light, cheap, novel, palate-expanding, and absolutely delightful. Negima skewers (chicken breast and scallions with a yakitori sauce, $2.25) are as tender as the dickens and rich with a sweet and salty flavor. Tsukune (meat balls, $3) and quail egg and bacon skewers ($3.75) are both pleasingly fresh approaches to the small-plate concept. The modularity and variety of items on Obento-ya's menu allows a veritable symphony of experiences to please any taste, from a friend in town from Manhattan to your mother-in-law from Bismarck. Obento-ya isn't the priciest or fanciest Japanese place in the Cities. But it's got a crazy amount of moxie and creativity, and that goes a long way.
For many Americans, sushi is the alpha and omega of Japanese cuisine, give or take a bowl of edamame and an order of tempura shrimp. You can get those things at Obento-ya, and they'll be served up with grace, skill, and gusto. But the beauty of this newly opened Japanese bistro near Dinkytown is that its menu is far broader than visitors might expect. Its offerings of robata--delicate skewers of meat or vegetarian fare prepared over an indoor charcoal grill--are light, cheap,... More »
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