Where would Austin Powers go for sushi and a Tab in Minneapolis? The answer is now clear, in two-week-old Shag Sushi, just opened in the white-hot North Loop. It’s kind of a hard place to explain. There’s luxuriant purple carpeting on one wall and a lot of lighting that looks like it wants the Bee Gees to come in and try to buy Foxy Brown a drink, but then there’s an open kitchen and a sushi bar at one end and a lot of cans of Tab on the sexy back-lit bar. What?
I just told you! Anyhoo, it’s the newest concept from Michael McDermott, founder of Kona Grill (the steak-and-sushi fusion chain), Rojo Mexican Grill (the taco and salad chain), and Ling & Louie’s (the sushi, steak, burger, and taco chain). He’s also something of chain-concept royalty, being the son of Chi-Chi’s founder Marno McDermott, who opened his first chimichanga palace in Richfield in 1975, also founded the Mexican chains Zantigo, Zapata, and Two Pesos, and was for a while the chairman of the board of Fuddruckers, leading it to big-time burger supremacy! Which is to say, do not underestimate McDermotts and their chain restaurant founding abilities! Even if you’re not sure why there are a lot of sort of stripper silhouettes on the menu beset by chopsticks, which are sort of like the opening credits of Dr. No and sort of like the first worksheet you get in 8th grade media courses to understand the way the culture reduces women into consumable objects! But they also have sushi!
The sushi Shag Sushi has is traditional sushi, California-born sushi innovations with jalapeños and avocados, and then there’s the rest of the menu, offering the greatest hits of various Asian restaurants: Pad Thai, Mongolian beef, tempura, orange chicken, coconut curry, and the like. I tried a bunch of it. It was on average pretty good! The best thing I tried was a blackened salmon toro, in which nicely fatty salmon belly is given a sort of pastrami-edge of pepper, seared, thinly sliced, and dressed with soy, ginger, garlic, grated daikon, scallions, and such. The treatment gives the lush fish a bright edge of nice spice. The nigiri sushi I tried was all of good quality, I was happy to find the Ama Ebi, the raw sweet shrimp, served properly, glistening fresh, accompanied by their deep fried shells, crisp and crunchy. My server recommended a few of Shag Sushi’s rolls, and so I tried them. The #2 was soy paper wrapped crab salad with avocado, cucumber, tempura onion, masago, and spicy mayo. The #4 was yellowtail minced with cilantro and cucumber, hidden in a roll of rice sprinkled with togarashi spice and dotted with pickled pepper slices. Both tasted like just a ton of seasoned rice, so I’m not sure you’d like them.
The tacos—the restaurant of the son of Chi-Chi’s must have tacos!—were, I regret to report, terrible. The worst part of the tacos were their strange cold, fried base. My server said it was fried daikon, though I myself wasn’t sure, the whitish stuff in the cold breading was indistinct, it might have been the pounded rice advertised in the menu description, or something else no one likes. On top of the taco was minced tuna and a smattering of black tamago drizzled with more spicy mayo. There are some things spicy mayo can’t fix, I guess! The pad Thai I tried was on the sweet side, but inoffensive, and the tempura shrimp and vegetables were quite fine, lacy, and nicely crisp. And the Shagarita cocktail, with tequila, sake, lime, and ginger was delicious, plus they have Japanese whiskey tasting flights, which is nice to have access to if you want to get in on the big trend of the year.
Speaking of trends: What does Austin Powers have to do with this, and why are there so many cans of Tab available at the bar, for $2.25? We know Austin Powers is involved, somehow, because on the “story” page of Shag Sushi’s website the restaurant advises that the place is: Michael McDermott’s latest contribution to the Twin Cities sushi scene . . . he crafts a menu and a venue that seem to growl, "who loves ya, baby? . . . if you’re really in the mood, the sparkling bunny will give you a tickle. Dig it?”
Which, of course, brings to mind the legendary words of Dr. Evil, from the 1997 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
“The details of my life are quite inconsequential,” Dr. Evil said. “My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a 15-year-old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets.”
And when in Minneapolis they’d go to Shag Sushi? No doubt!