Review: Sushi Train’s gimmick delivers real flavor

Sushi Train diners sit in booths as colored sushi plates scuttle alongside of them, available for anyone to grab as they pass by. The color of the plate determines the price // Photo by Sam Ziegler

Sushi Train diners sit in booths as colored sushi plates scuttle alongside of them, available for anyone to grab as they pass by. The color of the plate determines the price // Photo by Sam Ziegler

Have no doubt: The sushi-laden conveyor belt at the heart of Sushi Train is a gimmick. It’s a prop that sets the newly opened downtown Minneapolis restaurant apart from the dozens of other places slinging sushi in the Metro area and beyond—a visual symbol of excess, an eye-catching curio that makes you go, “What? Is that…a thing now?”

It’s been a thing elsewhere for years—since 1958 in Japan, and in other sushi-forward spots around the United States (Hawaii, Seattle, etc.) and the world in the decades to follow.

That written, once you’ve had kaiten-zushi, you get the appeal. There’s no menu to pick through, no wait time between your butt hitting the seat and the fish hitting your palate. What you see is quite literally what you get. Instead of picking your way through paperwork, you take your place in the booth and let your arm drift out to casually snag whatever might catch your eye.

Top: Peppered Tuna. Bottom: A crunchy crab roll with Shrimp Tempura, cucumber, and topped with spicy crab // Photos by Sam Ziegler

Top: Peppered Tuna. Bottom: A crunchy crab roll with shrimp tempura, cucumber, and topped with spicy crab // Photos by Sam Ziegler

The sushi at Sushi Train is attractively packaged on colorful plates topped with sneeze-proof plastic domes, each plate denoting a different price. Green is $1.95, yellow $2.75, red $3.50, blue $4.25, and gray clocks in at a majestic $4.75 per plate. Our group (two sushi eaters and a milk-focused infant) racked up about $40 over the course of a meal, but we ate liberally and emerged full.

All of this, of course, would be a lot of meaningless hand waving if the sushi weren’t good. Sushi Train is giving it an earnest effort and nearly all of what’s being served up is worthy of the price.

Some of the food, in fact, is a remarkable value: $2 for a serving of nicely prepared edamame or a vegetable maki (roll) is a steal, and the quality was there. An order of peppered tuna, aggressively but appropriately charred with an intense sprinkling of seasoning, was a bargain for $4.75, and punchily flavorful.

The usual suspects (Philly roll, $4.25; eel and cucumber, $4.25) all presented nicely—they were made fresh and tasted like it, and the rice was well seasoned and tender without falling apart. Our only real objection was a plate of tuna sashimi ($4.75), which should have had a fresh, clean depth of flavor but was instead essentially without taste. It may be that for your roll-of-the-day type experience, Sushi Train is a fine choice, but if you’re looking for a dialed-in sashimi triumph, a high-end spot like Kado no Mise would be worth the additional cash required.

The store front of Sushi Train, which is at 1200 Nicollet Mall C3, Minneapolis // Photo by Sam Ziegler

The store front of Sushi Train, which is at 1200 Nicollet Mall C3, Minneapolis // Photo by Sam Ziegler

A few predictions: If Sushi Train can keep the quality up, it’s going to be irritatingly rammed with customers in no time flat. Likewise: We’ll see more kaiten-zushi popping up around the metro. And finally: Gimmick or no, that’s not a bad thing.

What: Sushi Train

Where: 1200 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55403

Phone: 612-200-9260

Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11am–11pm; Friday–Saturday, 11am–12am; Sunday, 12pm–11pm