Jihye Chang

“Fargo”

Samurai Asian Fusion Reustaurant and Sushi Bar

Samurai Japanese Cuisine in Fargo has been open for only a few weeks, but it has already generated a lot of buzz. (Last week I got 2 emails from my friends urging me to check it out!)

I have so far tasted their Chirashi, Mackerel (saba) sushi, Ikura (salmon roe) sushi, spider roll, volcano roll, green curry with tofu, shrimp and vegetable tempura and tempura ice cream. I was skeptical at first as they have such a huge menu that ranges from nigiri sushi to Singapore noodle and general Tso’s chicken, but everything I had was surprisingly good.

First of all their fish quality is probably the best in town. The white tuna and salmon on my chirashi were of very good quality. (although it did not have a lot of fish considering the price at $17.95) Many new restaurants tend to put out their best in the first few weeks and then eventually downgrade. But I hope the ingredient quality at Samurai will continue to be good.

I also liked the way they cook their sushi rice. (In my humble opinion, sushi is as much about rice as it is about fish.) Of course you can’t compare it to the sushi you eat at great restaurants in Japan, where the sushi master takes amazing amount of care for their vinegar, rice, particular kind of salt, etc. But at least it was not sticky or gummy or too sweet as some of other sushi places in town, and the rice-other ingredients ratio was very good as well.

Ikura sushi was good enough, but the seaweed outside was a bit dried out. Probably it would be better if I sit at the sushi dai and eat the sushi as soon as it’s made. Spider roll and saba sushi were good, too. Volcano roll was tasty but probably won’t order again as it’s a bit too big and on the pricey side without being special.

Shrimp tempura was very good. Japanese tempura is not made with panko, and it should have light and crispy texture to it. The tempura at Samurai was better than any other tempura that I had in town. To my taste it had a bit too much little “tempura flowers,” but still very crispy and light. The shrimp quality was good, and the oil was drained very well. Tempura sauce was also good.

Thai green curry  was tasty, too. Unusual to have fried potato pieces in Thai curry, but everything else was well balanced and it was made with good ingredients. Salad and miso soup are OK. I looked at other tables, and all the food looked good. (Pad Thai, Crab cake, tuna dumpling, etc.)

I talked to the manager, John, for a little bit. I asked him how he manages to have such a big menu, and he told me that there is a “master top chef” who knows everything in the kitchen, and there is also a chef only dedicated to doing teriyaki stuff. There are also 2 sushi chefs at the sushi dai. Interior is very modern and minimal, (the blue light makes you feel like you are in the Tron: Legacy!) and the service is good. Since my husband liked eating at Samurai and won’t refuse to go, I think I will be back for sure. At least it’s worth trying for more than once, just to check out the menu. 🙂

They don’t have a website up yet, so here are a few essential information:

Address & Phone number: 1775 45th Street South, Suite B/ 701-356-8882

Open hour: Monday-Thursday 11am till 10pm (11am – 3pm, lunch hour)/ Friday and Saturday 11am till 10:30pm/ Sunday noon till 9pm

Sample menu:

Miso soup $2.5, Tom Yum Soup with shrimp $3.95

Samurai seafood salad $10.50

Gyoza $4.95, Beef negimaki $7.50, Crab cake with pineapple salsa $6.95, Shrimp tempura $7.50

Usual items for nigiri sushi and sashimi from $4.50-$7.95

Many choices for special rolls and what they call “sashimi roll” $4.95 – $19.50/ Chirashi $17.95/ Unagi-don $15.95

Fusion Asian entrees such as lychee duck, grand manier shrimp, soft shell crab Thai style

Other items include Thai curry and basil sauce stir fries/ Japanese noodle soup (Udon)/ Chinese items such as eggplant with garlic sauce and Genera Tso’s chicken, Japanese teriyaki, etc.

UPDATE (as of February 10, 2011) – I have visited three more times after this initial review and tried many other dishes. I think sushi is still OK, and some Thai dishes (green curry and pad Thai). Udon was not good at all (broth was salty and not flavorful/ had same vegetables as the Tom Yum), and the tempura had an odd detergent (?) taste.

Still a very nice service, good sushi rice, and variety that a lot of my friends liked. Not sure if I want to keep this in “Good eats in America” category, but it’s the best Asian/Japanese restaurant in FM area in my opinion.

Where to carb out before Go Far! Fargo Marathon

The Fargo Marathon is this weekend, Saturday May 22! I signed up for the 2-person relay with a friend of mine but have not trained myself all that much. So I plan to make it up by eating lots of pasta before Saturday! I have written a few things about restaurants in the Fargo-Moorhead area on this blog, but today I will present a list aimed at fellow marathoners and runners in search of good carb-loading/ pasta options.

Taste of Italy (Formerly Isabella & Stella) – 608 1st Ave. (close to Broadway) 701-365-0608

Stella was my (and my husband’s) favorite choice for Italian food and pastas in FM area, period. Their Ravioli, Pappardelle alla Bolognese, Spaghetti puttanesca (all $13), Rigatoni con porcini ($18), Seafood spaghetti ($21) are all very delicious and reasonably priced. I know they use San Marzano whole tomato cans for their tomato sauce, which makes a big difference. (I persuaded Tony to sell me a can once and made a great Bolognese sauce with it!) Their strengths as a restaurant are how well they do the simple things – the basic pasta dishes and simple tomato sauce that make or break any Italian kitchen.  Chefs here are not afraid of using a lot of garlic, and Stella’s pasta dishes are never salty or soggy. All dinner pasta dishes come with marinated vegetable appetizer, bread, and salad. Be aware that the service can be very slow, and the owner has a “personality.” Oh, and for their food the wine list is a bit sad. But the word is out – today (Monday, May 17th) I reserved a table for Friday (the day before the marathon) at 7pm, and already the restaurant was almost totally reserved for marathoners and carb-loading parties! (This restaurant changed their ownership in 2011. Some dishes are still same, some changed. No more marinated mushrooms, though!)

Toscana – 202 Broadway N. 701-235-9100

A lot of dishes here tend to be salty these days. (It was not the case when they just opened, but it has become that way and I don’t like it as much as I used to), but all the pasta dishes are reasonably priced and some of them are still pretty good. My husband likes their gnocchi, and I like their Piselli e prosciutto pasta. Their Arrabbiatta used to be good, but these days it’s too salty and too spicy for my taste. Also their shrimps (in any dish) tend to be too watery. Service is better than Stella’s.

Spitfire- 1660 13th Ave E. West Fargo. 701-478-8667

This restaurant is mainly a rib/roasted chicken joint, but 5-6 pasta dishes are on the menu. (BTW- their ribs are the best in town, if you would rather eat protein than carb.) My husband and I have tried their Diablo pasta with sausage, chicken and shrimp a few times, and it’s cheesy, peppery and tasty. Big portions, and satisfactory taste. Not anywhere near being “authentic Italian” but it’s good. Through many trips, I have not been disappointed at this restaurant, except getting a sad salad once. This would be actually a good restaurant to go after you run a marathon.

Granite City – 1636 42nd Street S. 701-293-3000

It’s been a while since I ate at GC, as they took some things I liked off the menu and their food tends to taste as if it comes frozen or pre-cooked, but a lot of people seem to like this restaurant. This place has 7-8 pasta choices on the menu, and almost all of them are parmesan or pesto-based. I recall trying a seafood pasta special, and it was not bad. Good beer selection and nice atmosphere.

Santa Lucia

This claims to be a “Mediterranean” restaurant. I ate at this place a while ago once, and today I went back to check out again. Spaghetti with bolognese sauce and meatballs (about $13, salad separate at $2.95) was not good at all. It had a very strange canned tomato paste flavor and was really salty, with very dry meatballs. Their Penne Arabbiata with shrimp ($14.95) was better, but it was also on the salty side. Both dishes were gigantic. You can probably go to this restaurant when you don’t want to go to Olive Garden/ when other restaurants are full.  I suspect that the Greek dishes on their menu would be more successful.

There are a few other non-chain restaurants with pasta menu, but I have not eaten their pasta dishes:

Sarello’s is a very nice Italian restaurant in Moorhead (28 Center Ave. Moorhead, 218-287-0238), but the only pasta dishes on their menu are Lobster Ravioli ($24) and Penne Arrabiatta. ($17)

Basie’s is also a nice restaurant inside the Ramada Plaza Suite. (1635 42 St. S. 701-281-7105) I have eaten their steak and fish dishes, and they are what you expect from this kind of restaurant. It would not be my first choice of restaurant, but it has nice service, good food, and good menu. They feature 5 very interesting pasta dishes. (Thai red curry sauce on Linguini with crab and mussels/ gorgonzola cream sauce over linguini to name a few)

Doolittle’s – 2112 25th Street S. 701-478-2200

Doolittle’s pastas all have Alfredo-type sauce, so I have never ordered a pasta dish here. But their food is usually quite good, and the portions are big. Oh, and their kitchen is open until 11pm, which is a bit later than the norm for Fargo-Moorhead.

Lastly, Speak Easy is a locally owned restaurant in Moorhead with an extensive pasta menu and a cute, old-fashioned deco. However their food is not something that I would recommend highly. Their spaghetti with meatballs was only marginally better than Olive Garden or other not so high-quality chain restaurants.

Well, good luck to everybody who’s running! I hope it will be warmer than last year!

My favorite restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead area

Tuna Appetizer at Monk's Pub

Tuna Appetizer at Monk’s Pub

I have lived in Fargo-Moorhead area for about 1.65 years, and there are a few really good places for dining and having fun. One of my favorite restaurant is Sushi Time, and I found this place through someone’s blog. So I thought I would share my thoughts so that someone else can visit a great place in this area.

Silver Moon on Robert St – very well executed fine dining experience. It’s been open for less than a year (today is April 10 2009), but it seems to be thriving. Dessert menu was a bit disappointing but the duck dish (with campari infused sweet potato) my husband ordered was amazing. Great salad, great atmosphere, and great service. A bit loud, though. (no section or walls inside the restaurant, high ceiling, live performance. Hence lots of noise)

Update (January 25, 2010) – visited a few more times after posting this, including tonight. Still wonderful, some dishes are a bit too salty. My husband’s braised sort rib with gnocchi was wonderful. Still not happy with their dessert..

Update (April 2016) – Closed a while ago, and has been successfully turned over as “Mezzluna.” My friends (especially the Fargo Moorhead Symphony friends) seem to like it very much, and I would love to visit it sometime soon.

Stella’s (formerly Isabella’s)  – my favorite Italian place in town. Their food has a lot of garlic and a lot of tomato so some people may find it a bit strong, but I love it! Their appetizer tray, lasagna, seafood spaghetti, zuppa di pesce, and grilled sausages with peppers are fantastic. I also like their bread, especially when it comes fresh and warm from the oven. Nothing special, but good basic loaf to soak up oil, vinegar and lots of sauce from your plate. Nice chocolate cake and cheesecake for desserts. (Their tiramisu is a bit heavy on the alcohol side.) Service can be slow. Toscana is also an OK Italian restaurant in downtown, but they have very weird hours and their food tend to be really salty. I like their gnocchi and pea and ham spaghetti for a quick lunch. (Lunch pasta dishes are usually $7-8)

Update (April 2016): CLOSED! 

Usher’s/ Monk’s Bar – Best sashimi-grade tuna dish in town. (I tried sashimi tuna dishes in all the restaurants that I visited in this area.) They serve Tuna napoleon as an appetizer, and it’s $16 -But it comes with 6 big chunks of really good-quality tuna, slightly seared, with some spicy aioli and fried wonton wrappers. It’s better to order it from the Monk’s bar, not from Usher’s. You can have it as a main dish and add a soup or something, instead of ordering a main dish.  Good beer selection. Good atmosphere. Other dishes are OK. I love the atmosphere in the Usher’s dining room – nice wood interior with big windows.

Update: Monk’s Bar has Happy Hour from 3-6pm, and all the appetizers are half price. The garnish and presentation was different during this summer from the winter, but still delicious.

Maxwell’s – the best Creme Brulee in town. (And one of the bests I have had – creme brulee is one of my favorite desserts!) Main dish can be on the salty side. But they have great service and atmosphere. Special occasion pre-fix menu is fun, but maybe not that special. (And good things run out – we could not get the fried banana dessert on Valentine’s day.) Nice to place to try/ very good wine list.

John Alexander’s on Main Ave., Moorhead – right next door to the Juano’s. Nice atmosphere, nicely written menu. Their best meal and best deal is Sunday Brunch, not their lunch or dinner. (Hamburger and fish & chips are good, but other items may bring you a big disappointment.) I always have hard time deciding what to eat for brunch, and buffet is a bit too much for me. Here you can choose one from yogurt, granola and fruit sort of thing and then select your main dishes such as omelet and pancake.

HoDo – this place has a really nice feel to it, but their food is not my favorite. (It always seems to be trying too hard to be cool and the flavor of dishes is always off a little bit or lacking something.) I like their mini-desserts because of their fun size. Sorbet is the best choice. (Meyer Lemon sorbet was good.) Cool place to hang out and drink, although the bar area is a bit too loud for my taste.

Sarello’s in Moorhead, near the mall – I have been there only once, but it seemed to be popular and it was good. To me this restaurant was a bit over-priced, but the service was really nice and food was very well prepared. I had a seabass with cornmeal crust which was nice enough but not memorable like some of the dishes I had at the Silver Moon. I don’t even remember what my husband ordered here..! Nice bread and butter. It feels a bit boxy and crowded. (Probably because the space used to be an office.)

When you want to have good ribs or rotisserie chicken, Spitfire is a very nice place to visit. It’s locally owned and has a very pleasant, sporty, and comfortable atmosphere. Very good ribs and good desserts. Salad greens sometimes appear very sad and not-fresh, though. Doolittle is also nice for rotisserie stuff or other simple burgers and salads (Tuna nicoise salad is very good.) It’s spacious, friendly, and clean. Best of all, Doolittle’s kitchen is open until 11pm, which is rare in this area.

I also like Nichole’s pastry shop on 8th St. (off the Main Ave.) very much. It has really nice croissants and scones. Lunch sandwiches and salad are also reasonably priced and tasty. Nice tea selection and gelatos as well as beautiful chocolates (cocoa truffles!), but I don’t like their coffee too much. (They serve French pressed coffee. So it’s almost always fresh, but it’s just not my favorite type of coffee. Their espresso drinks are OK.) Their fruit pie during the spring-summer season is also nice. During the winter, check out the banana-cream pie and chocolate-sea salt-caramel tart -they are so yummy! Chocolate feuillentine is very good as well as chocolate caramel torte. I don’t like their cakes (vanilla cake, carrot cake, lemon curd cake, black forest cake are all OK but not great) or cookies that much, though. But it’s still one of the places in Fargo-Moorhead area that makes me happy. Very nice clerks, too.

Update (January 25. 2010) – Nichole’s is expanding!

One sad thing about being so far away from the ocean is that it’s really hard to get good sushi. Yuki Hana seems to be popular, but it is a mediocre place (or below mediocre) with overpriced items. Ingredients do not seem fresh (especially the teriyaki stuff – both meat and veggies) After a few visits, my husband and I decided not to go back.

Update (March 10, 2010): Yuki Hana has been closed for a while, but it will be open soon again. (Chef Sheng from Sushi Time got a job offer there.) Newly open Kobe’s is very popular, but I don’t like their sushi. It seems that the sushi rice quality is very poor, and the rolls are covered with too much sweet tasting sauce/ not enough fish in the rolls. My husband never wanted to go back after the first try, and I dragged him 3-4 more times. But now I know that I will probably not go back ever again.)

Another sad thing is that there is no decent Chinese restaurant in town, and there is no Korean restaurant. For Chinese food-cravings, I go to Little Szechuan in St. Paul. (My husband and I would make an excuse to go there!)

For Thai food, Leela on the 25th Ave. is nice, although it can be too sweet sometimes. Black and white slices are good as well as angel wings (pretty spicy). My husband’s favorite is their mango-duck curry and my favorite is basil stir-fry with tofu and eggplant. Fresh spring rolls and Pad Thai are better at Thai Orchid in Moorhead. I also like their Spicy Catfish, House Special Noodles and Thai fried rice.

Update (December 2009): Thai Orchid has changed their recipes for a lot of things. I like the old flavors of the Tom Yum and Yum Nua better. Also the fresh chili sauce is a lot more spicy. Still the Spicy Catfish is good as well as the fresh spring rolls are good.

I find it interesting that there are not many McDonalds or Wendy’s in town and there is no donut joint.  (Krispy Kreme went out of business last year!) But I suppose that’s a good thing.

I just wish someone will open a nice Korean restaurant or a noodle shop soon! The best location would be the Bison Block on the 12th..