Saji-Ya

26 Jul

Visited July 17, 2010

Ryan

On a recent Saturday night, Lauren and I were invited out to dinner with three friends, and sushi was the popular choice. As you have seen on this blog, we have already been to a fair number of sushi joints in the Twin Cities, and I have a difficult time telling them apart food-wise, so it really comes down to presentation, ambiance, staff, etc. After Lauren and I both nixed the original idea of Tiger Sushi in Uptown due to unfavorable marks on yelp.com, we all agreed on St. Paul’s Saji-Ya, located on Grand Ave.

Lauren and I arrived early and took a seat at the bar, where we were promptly served some drinks as we watched the Twins game. Lauren went for one of the fun house drinks, while I opted for a summery gin and tonic. Before long the rest of the crew arrived and we were seated near the kitchen. My first impression of the restaurant was positive; the staff seemed professional and courteous, but it took a while for the others to place drink orders. The decor was nothing special, and our table was oddly shoved in the back corner away from the other tables, but that really didn’t bother me at all.

Calamari appetizer at Saji-Ya, St. Paul, MN

The calamari appetizer was a great way to start the meal.

Lauren and I decided to start with an appetizer and ordered the calamari. Unlike most calamari we’ve tried, these came in giant onion ring shaped pieces. There were about 12 pieces, served with a tangy soy-based sauce. The appetizer alone at $9 was relatively filling, earning points from me. For the main course, the two of us split three rolls—Manny (albacore, spicy mayo, crunchy red, black, and green tobiko – $16.95), Spider (soft shell crab, cucumber, and gobo – $12.50), and Dynamite (hamachi and habanero – $7.25). The Manny roll was undoubtedly the best and most festive looking with its pink top. The other two rolls were pretty standard in appearance and tasted pretty much the same to me. Drowned in soy sauce and wasabi, I thoroughly enjoyed all three. Combined there were 16 pieces—I had 9, Lauren had 7. We were full by the time dinner ended.

Saji-Ya main course, St Paul, MN

The two of us split three different rolls - 16 pieces total.

Overall I have to say Saji-Ya was a place I’d go back to again, but then again so were all the other sushi places we’ve been, in my opinion! I’m still looking for that WOW factor—something that separates one sushi joint from the next, whether it’s amazing food, unusual decor, excellent service, or something else.

Lauren

I was originally hoping to try either Anchor Fish & Chips or the Blue Door Pub this evening, but when our friend Sarah called us to say that she was planning on a big run the next day – she’s training for a marathon – and would prefer a lighter meal, sushi sounded good to both of us.

We got there just a bit early and decided to spend a bit of time in the bar area. Ryan ordered a standard drink but I decided to go off of the drink menu. It’s not something I normally do, because those specialty drinks can cost quite a pretty penny!

But the drink I ordered, the “Plum Kiss” was delicious!! It was plum wine, prosecco, and something else. It was much sweeter than drinks I typically order, but it was a lovely pink-purpley colour and the friendly bartender stuck an orchid in it, so I consider it well worth the price.

As Ryan noted, we ordered our favourite, calamari! It seems that about 50% of the time we got out to eat, we end up ordering fried squid. But who can blame us, it’s delicious! The calamari at Saji-Ya was so strange … VERY large pieces. It looked more like onion rings than anything else. All of us at the table joked how it must have been one huge squid!

Surprisingly, I am much more picky than Ryan is when it comes to sushi. As much as I love it, I just cannot handle large pieces of raw fish… I cannot do nigiri (which is what most people think of when they think ‘sushi’. Nigiri is slices of fish on a rice bed). I would love it if I could split each typical nigiri piece into three pieces! I know this is gross: Whenever I try to eat nigiri, I get very freaked out by the “mouth feel” of the larger piece of fish and have trouble chewing and swallowing.

Sorry for that information.

So I prefer, greatly, to order maki (which are rolls, typically with rice on the outside and fish on the inside, but this can vary), where I can get the flavor of fresh fish but in smaller amounts that are texturally easier for me to deal with. I definitely wish that I could be more adventurous! But the texture of raw fish is too much for me to handle in that quantity.

I really enjoy that Ryan has become more open to sushi – it’s so much fun to be able to order a few different rolls and share everything! I really enjoyed the “Manny” roll with the albacore – I don’t believe I had had albacore before – and a bit of spice. I always enjoy a good spicy roll!

The service was pretty good. I love the warm towels you get at Japanese restaurants; Saji-Ya’s smelled of almond, which I loved. But our table was right next to the kitchen and despite that, sorry to say, our server was rather an absentee. Perhaps it was because Ryan and I had already got drinks while we were waiting at the bar, but she essentially forgot to take drink orders for the rest of our table until they told her that they wanted to order beverages.

As fans of the blog (are there any????) probably are aware, I base a huge portion of my review on how often my water glass is refilled. I am a very thirsty person and I can take down a typical 8 oz water glass in mere seconds. The service was good, except for the fact that for most of dinner I did not have any water.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed Saji-Ya. I would still say my preferred sushi restaurant in the Twin Cities is Wasabi (but it’s been a very long time since we’ve gone there) but this came close. I loved my fun specialty drink and I was very satisfied by our order. When the bill came, we felt it was fairly reasonable, which was nice – it can be scary to receive the check at a sushi restaurant in a land-locked state!

Ambience – 4/5. Our table was next to the kitchen, which was a downfall. There were much better tables but we were a strange party (five people).
Service – 3/5. Our bartender while we were waiting was very fun and engaging. Our server was tolerable.
Food – 4/5. I liked it quite a bit! The calamari was a bit tough, does that mean it was an older squid? The sushi was fresh and very tasty. Our dinner companions all had very positive things to say. However, like Ryan said, we’re both far from experts in the field of sushi.
Overall experience – 3.5/5. I enjoyed myself quite a bit! Saji-Ya has a very intimate feel, which is nice. It’s actually much larger than it feels. I wasn’t a big fan of where we were seated (when the kitchen door opened we became privy to all manner of staff conversations, some of which I would have preferred not be aware of). That being said, we had what seemed to be the one table in the restaurant that was geared for a party of more than four; the rest of them were in a more proper dining area and looked to have a better time of it. Overall, one of my more preferred sushi dining experiences in the Twin Cities.

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One Response to “Saji-Ya”

  1. Marcie July 31, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Remind me not to go to this restaurant with you when we come. I don’t like cooked fish, so I doubt I’d like raw fish and calamari doesn’t appeal to me either. Sorry!

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