When Chef Hide Tozawa was anticipating the grand opening of his Longfellow restaurant two months ago, he thought it might be slow going for a while. So much had happened this summer. He wasn’t sure people would venture out with the double whammy of the pandemic and all of the neighborhood unrest. He was prepared to be patient.
The restaurant doors were scheduled to open at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2. By 4:30 p.m., the patio and parking lot were already buzzing with customers eager to try the neighborhood’s newest restaurant. To Tozawa’s delight, he said, “We got slammed!”
Okome House serves what Tozawa calls Japanese comfort food. His goal is to prepare traditional dishes with excellent ingredients at prices people can afford. He said, “We’re not 100% organic, but we’re pretty close.”
He hopes every diner can find something to enjoy on the menu. There are all kinds of options including vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, seafood, chicken, lamb, and pork. The two main menu sections are divided into Donburi and Onigiri.
Donburi is a rice bowl served with vegetables. The Tori Don Donburi uses chicken from the Larry Schultz Organic Farm in Owatonna, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, broccolini, green onion, and nitamago in a buttery soy sauce. Nitamago is a boiled egg marinated in soy sauce. This dish is gluten free.
Each of the six rice bowls on the menu is as colorful and flavorful as this one, with prices ranging from $11-$16.
Onigiri is a rice ball served with a choice of filling. Tozawa said, “For me, this is a food that has never grown old. It’s more portable than a sandwich. The rice holds together so well, you could even tuck an onigiri in your pocket. The fillings range from simple (smoked tuna) to complex (pickled plum). Again, there is a flavor for everyone.”
Okome means husked grains of rice in Japanese, and rice is what Tozawa’s menu is built around. Okome House literally means the rice house. He uses a short grained variety of Japanese rice grown in California, and an industrial rice cooker that is always humming in the kitchen. Tozawa estimates he goes through 25-30 quarts of rice each day.
It’s the same type of rice he grew up with in his home town of Akita, on the sea coast in northern Japan. Tozawa came to the Twin Cities 26 years ago, as a student at the University of Minnesota. He worked at Origami Restaurant in Uptown to help pay for his education. One term shy of graduating, he decided he had found his true vocation: cooking, and he never looked back.
Tozawa went on to cook at a few restaurants around town, including becoming a chef and part owner at Kyatchi – a venerable sushi restaurant in South Minneapolis and Lowertown St. Paul. Okome House is his first venture as a solo entrepreneur.
The restaurant has been open for dine-in since late September. Half a dozen tables are spaced apart in the dining area. The patio will remain open indefinitely, until the weather turns. Masks are required to enter. A liquor license has just been approved, and the restaurant will begin offering a selection of sake, wine, and beer shortly.
Okome House is located in the original Parkway Pizza building at 4457 42nd Ave.South. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 4:30-7:45 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 612-354-2423, or go to www.okome.house.