By Ben Karkela
Photos by Ben and Sam Karkela
The Cherry Blossom roll (left) and Wasabi roll impress with appearance and taste.
Downtown Fargo-Moorhead contains an eclectic mix of businesses. The vast majority of them sell either food or art, but no other business mixes the two together quite like Wasabi sushi and Asian Grill.
The end result is a delicious and beautiful concoction.
"Sushi is an art," chef and manager Mike Roterdam said. "It’s not just putting food on a plate. It takes time to make."
Owners Thamrong "Keng" Dechawuth and Dave Scheer opened Wasabi in fall 2009 with the goal of bringing something new to Fargo. Wasabi creates its own style of sushi, a mix of tradition and innovation, along with a new wine and sake list.
What to expect
Most people in the area have never tried sushi. Roterdam recommends that customers new to sushi come in with an open mind. Look through the menu and talk to the servers to get more information about the food. Sushi is a slow food. It takes time to prepare, 45 minutes with a full restaurant, but the end result is worth the wait.
At Wasabi, the menu contains other items besides sushi. The Lunchbox is a popular item served until 2 p.m. Lunchboxes range in price from $7-$15 and come with an entree of choice, house salad with ginger-citrus vinaigrette, rice, soup, tempura – deep fried batter and vegetables and the chefs choice – usually a fried dumpling. It is a whole lunch, popular with the business crowd downtown. Thai Barbecue, Korean Bulgogi, Crying Tiger and Chicken Teriyaki are available for those looking for a hot meal.
Sushi is not a fast food. It takes time to make.
Meet the chef
Roterdam came in as a chef three weeks after the restaurant opened and eventually became manager. As a manager, he must have a complete knowledge of all the food on the menu, keep the restaurant stocked and the customer satisfied.
Roterdam picked up cooking skills at an early age from his mother, who was a personal chef. He has no formal training, but started working at Yuki Hana as a busboy. There, he worked his way up to cooking hot food and then up to making sushi.
He learned how to make sushi from many different chefs. This helped him create his own fusion style that combined elements from the different chefs who trained him.
Roterdam poses for a photo behind the sushi bar.
A feast for the eyes
The presentation at Wasabi is, simply put, gorgeous. The vivid colors and minute intricacies of the specialty rolls will make people wonder if it is food or fine art.
"People often take pictures of the food," Roterdam said.
A note to customers: When the food arrives, eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth.
Eating sushi is a family-style meal. With a group of family or friends, have everybody order something different. Place all the food in the middle of the table and sample a little bit of everything.
The Red Dragon roll (far left) stares at the customer.
Roterdam utilizes fruit such as lemon and lime.
Fish from around the world
Roterdam orders his fish from several different distributors located across the country. He knows which place has the best fish for his needs. The most popular distributor is True World Foods, based in Chicago. Roterdam also gets fish from Honolulu, and the fish can be at his doorstep within 42 hours of being caught.
Although Fargo is located in the middle of the continent, the fish served is as fresh as anywhere not located along a coast. The quality of a sushi bar has to do with how they take care of the fish and how well the sauces and marinades are prepared.
Decor says ‘downtown’
In terms of atmosphere, Wasabi has a "downtown" feel to it unlike most Asian restaurants. The open ceilings, basic cement floors and metal sculptures appeal to a hip, urban crowd. Most of the clientele of Wasabi are between the ages of 20-30.
Scheer built and painted the restaurant. The metal sculptures were created by artist Kyle Thomas, who specializes in stainless steel and aluminum welding designs.
A metal sculpture created by Kyle Thomas hangs on the south wall.
Wasabi employs eight to nine servers and four people who work on sushi and at the Asian grill. The restaurant is located in the back of The Drunken Noodle, another business owned by Keng and Scheer. If business is slow, customers can order menu items from both Wasabi and The Drunken Noodle.
Customers recieve a bowl of miso soup with their order.