When I was my daughter’s age, I had Nintendo as my extracurricular activity. That, and playing the violin, a skill I let slowly slip away with each new day of high school that passed. But even if I’d kept it up, such a thing as club violin – a competitive conference of fiddlers traveling the country to battle it out for a medal – didn’t exist. I went to practice once a week. And a couple times a year, a group of us caravanned it to a nursing home to entertain the wild crowds.
Fast forward 30 years, you’ll find most of my weeknights and weekends jam-packed with indoor volleyball practices, beach volleyball practices, tournaments, special clinics, jazz concerts, saxophone lessons, trips to open calls for models, and plenty of other random, non-academic functions meant to round out my child’s childhood. Which means lots of travel and a ton of money. However, there are perks (aside from seeing my kid have fun). Mimosa and Bloody Mary tailgates. Sports-mom friends even crazier than I am. And, truly, all the new and distant cuisine I get to enjoy while on the road.
PinKU is one of those places, a popular Minneapolis joint serving Japanese street food, found by me on Day 1 of the 2017 Junior Nationals for volleyball. With a two-hour break between matches, I figured why not Lyft away from the convention center for a little “me (and my belly)” time. Despite the ominous and ill-timed article my husband texted me while en route…
I arrived without a scratch, the first customer for PinKU’s dinner service. So I had the owner’s – Xiaotang – full attention, him offering to give me the rundown of their short menu (though I’m sure he’d have been just as attentive and informative had their been a string of folks lined up behind me). Heeding his recommendations, I went for the crispy shrimp and the spicy tuna on crispy rice (even though I’ve never in my life ordered spicy tuna – being out of town makes me do crazy things). I tasted the shrimp first, a perfectly battered and perky assemblage that thrilled with its balance of flavors and textures – equally crisp and luscious. I took just that one bite because I wanted to savor more – to save it for last. So then it was tuna’s turn, which scared me because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a tuna girl. Maybe I’ve had it once before, a taste of someone’s appetizer. After PinKU, I’m not longer scared of the spicy tuna. In fact, I’m excited for more if they’re all as good as this one, briny and zesty and wonderful.
It wouldn’t be a true Dianderthal experience (nor a volleyball mom experience) without a drank, so I ordered the PinKU elixir, a concoction of champagne, sake, pomegranate, lime, and orange liqueur.
And that’s a lie. I ordered two PinKU elixirs. With two hours as my break, I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to an over-air-conditioned complex with a whistle being blown every half-second and where the risk of being walloped by a stray ball constantly looms. So I sipped my second cocktail and watched the place, a space, Xiaotang explained, set up just like restaurants in Japan. It was his goal to make Japanese more accessible to Minnesotans, which he certainly seems to have done.
Woozy from my double elixirs (and tipsy off the shrimp, tuna one-two), I decided to make the trip back to the tournament by foot, a pleasant way to glimpse the blue collar roots of the city. Definitely worth abandoning my child for a couple hours.
20 University Avenue in Minnesota