White Bear Lake might be low on water, but it now boasts some of the freshest fish to be found in the metro. You’ll find it at Red Lantern Sushi (Aka Chouchin in Japanese), a recently opened Japanese tavern that is bringing a welcome touch of novelty to the relatively tradition-bound dimensions of Japanese cuisine. Chef-owner Wei Wang, who honed his sushi skills at a number of high-profile local establishments, cares intensely about the quality of his food and wants his guests to appreciate how it’s meant to be eaten.
Although there are a few signature sushi rolls, the emphasis here is on a handful of nigiri/sashimi selections. They’re created from the best catch of the moment, and without exception, the flavors are clean, deep, and exceptionally good. By far the most enjoyable and educational option is the tuna flight. Five different types of toro come arranged on a plank from least to most fatty. The latter is a roll that is topped with the tasty meat scrapings that are attached to the fish’s skin, which can’t be butchered in the conventional manner. A sequential sampling of each of the cuts is guaranteed to enhance your appreciation of this coveted fish, but the learning process doesn’t stop there. The staff instructed us that the side of pickled ginger we were preparing to layer on our fish is meant to be a palate cleanser between bites and also that we should not add any flavoring to our saucer of soy sauce. The idea is that you don’t want to do anything that will mask the essential flavor of the seafood beyond whatever seasoning the chef has already included in his composition.
However, the most illuminating experience for me was sampling some freshly ground wasabi root. For a couple of dollars, it’s well worth the expense. The commercial Play-Doh-like paste served at most spots is a mix of powders and extracts that pales in comparison to the real deal. If you sample small bites of the gratings at two-minute intervals, the flavor profile evolves from mildly spicy to intensely spicy to sweet.
In addition to sushi options, there’s a changing list of inspired small plates. One of the best was morsels of cooked lobster tail that had been poached in a shiitake mushroom. The perfectly cooked pieces of shellfish were elegant and sublime. Another standout was spicy potstickers—a riff on the ubiquitous gyoza that had great texture and a nice kick. I also savored the plucky sriracha shrimp and a flawless order of lightly seared tuna tataki.
Last, but not least, I would highly recommend a sampling of the house-made pickles. I tried five different kinds the evening I visited and loved every one of them. Also, if you’re interested in learning about sake, the staff will take the time to describe the compact list of brews and let you try a couple of them before you order.
Indeed, the personable service here is a real pleasure. There is a palpable desire to educate and please. The small, intimate nature of the spot—a collection of tables and a 10-or-so-seat sushi bar—tends to produce a cacophony of shouts, laughter, and good-natured ribbing, which, in my book, is the true essence of this kind of place.
My meal here was great fun, and the northeast metro has definitely reeled in a trophy. 2125 4th St., White Bear Lake, redlanternsushi.com