I had to break one of my cardinal rules in traveling this winter - never drive above the Minnesota/Iowa border between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28. With business prospects beginning to wake up in the Twin Cities, I had to go up for a couple meetings in late January. Actually, other than it being cold and the ground covered with a ton of snow from a huge snowfall they received in December, the weather wasn't that overly bad. I got into my hotel in Eden Prairie about 7 p.m. and I was ready to go get something to eat. I ended up at a little place with a unique name - Little Sushi on the Prairie (see map).
Actually, I wanted to go next door to Punch Neapolitan Pizza on the recommendation of a good friend in the Twin Cities area. However, Punch was packed with a full dining room and a line nearly out the door. I had mentioned that Punch was packed to someone the next day and they were incredulous that it would have been that busy on a Tuesday night. It turned out that Punch had been named one of "The Best Places I Have Been" by Twin Cities native Andrew Zimmern who hosts "Bizarre Foods" on The Travel Channel. They were offering a one night only special of $3 dollar pizzas - no matter how many toppings you wanted on a pizza, it was $3 bucks. So it was no wonder the place was so packed.
As I was getting ready to drive out of the parking lot to go someplace else, I caught the "Little Sushi on the Prairie" sign. I thought, "Whoa! Kind of an interesting name for a sushi joint. Sushi! That doesn't sound half-bad." I was able to find a parking spot tucked in at the far end of the lot and went inside to the place.
Tom Thoj is the owner of Little Sushi on the Prairie, a combination sushi/tempura restaurant. But everyone thinks the owner is Monzong Thao - or better known as "Mo" - who is the likable and highly visible sushi chef at Little Sushi. Mo was in that evening, doing his magic with the nigiri sushi and he was assisted by - I believe he was introduced as - Billy. I took a seat at the small sushi bar and an older lady came over to see if I wanted a menu. I told her that I was going to just get sushi and that I wanted a large bottle of Asahi to start me out.
Little Sushi on the Prairie is not an overly large place and there was only two other people in the very vibrant looking dining room that evening. The walls on the south and west side of the dining room are painted in pastel colors with fish and sea life the prominent features in the picture. The chairs all are sturdy, high-backed wood with a nice leather seat to them. Even though it's hidden back in a strip mall, it probably gets a lot of business from shoppers and business people in the area. In fact, the Minnesota Vikings training facility is not far from Little Sushi on the Prairie and I understand that a number of players will come in and get sushi from the place during the season.
I looked over the sushi menu and immediately ordered a spicy tuna roll. Mo asked me if I liked it spicy and I said, "Of course!" When the lady got back with my Asahi, I was ready to order some more - I ordered salmon, tuna, yellow tail, red snapper and the sweet shrimp. The lady asked me, "Do you want us to cut the head and deep fry it? We'll do that for no extra charge."
I found that to be sort of repulsive the first time I had it at a sushi place in Davenport. It was given to Cindy and I to try for free and Cindy couldn't get past the eyes looking at her. After a couple bites of the deep-fried, battered shrimp head I just had to tell myself to not dwell on what I was eating - sort of the same ritual I did when I first started to eat sushi some years ago. But now, it doesn't bug me. Sure, if you're gonna offer it for no extra charge, go for it!
The spicy tuna roll (above left) was very, very good. It had a nice kick to the spiciness and was a great start to the meal. By the time my tuna roll was finished, Billy handed over the plate of the nigiri sushi to me (top right). The fish was fresh - especially the tuna and the salmon. It was just wonderful. I was almost finished with my sushi plate and Mo handed over the sweet shrimp, which was also good. As I was waiting on the shrimp heads, I ordered up a couple more pieces of the tuna nigiri, which was the highlight of the meal. And about the time Billy handed me my two new pieces of tuna, the lady brought out the shrimp heads. And they were just GREAT! I don't know what kind of tempura batter they use on them, but the taste was out of this world. I just had to mentally get past the crunchiness of the head.
I was talking to a friend of mine, Bob Boyd, the next day and I told him that I had ended up at Little Sushi on the Prairie. He exclaimed, "Little Sushi! That's my place, man! Isn't that place great?"
It certainly was. I'm always looking to be pleasantly surprised when I find a hidden gem of a restaurant in my travels and Little Sushi on the Prairie certainly didn't disappoint. The sushi was great, I had a good time with the sushi chefs and the service was pretty good. It's sort of a hard place to find in Eden Prairie, but now that I've found it, I'll be back.
(Update - I got this note in March of 2013 from Jenny who lives in Eden Prairie. "My husband and I went to Little Sushi on the Prairie based on your wholehearted recommendation. However, we found that the place had closed. We went for pizza instead.")