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Meet Your Area Business Women: Zen House celebrates birthday

ZEN HOUSE, the Northland's only authentic Japanese restaurant, celebrated its first anniversary in June. The year has gone by so fast for owner, Yasuko Holt.

ZEN HOUSE, the Northland's only authentic Japanese restaurant, celebrated its first anniversary in June. The year has gone by so fast for owner, Yasuko Holt.

"I love to go to work," says Yasuko. "My staff and I have fun working. We learn something new each day -- a new recipe, technique, whatever. My kids are now grown, so I can concentrate on myself and my restaurant, and my husband is very supportive."

Yasuko started the business because she loves Japanese food and wanted to share her passion for native cuisine.

"Most of the dishes at ZEN HOUSE are those I ate when I grew up in Japan," she says. "Many of the items on the menu are based on my grandmother's recipes. She was a great cook and I enjoyed helping her cook. Although my grandmother passed away, she would be happy that her recipes are making a lot of people happy here in the Northland."

ZEN HOUSE serves a full menu of Japanese cuisine, as well as Japanese beer and sake. Her native cuisine has been described as clean and simple, and Yasuko is continuing to try to get the word out that it is not just raw fish and seaweed.

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The appetizers include Gyoza and Shumai (pork and shrimp dumplings), Satsuma-age (fried sweet potato), Kaiso (seaweed) salad, Edamame (steamed whole soybeans), and fresh Ahi tuna salad.

Traditional Japanese dinners include Tonkatsu (a breaded pork cutlet), Korokke (a breaded Japanese potato patty), Tofu Dengaku (grilled tofu with miso dressing), and as well as the more familiar Teriyaki with salmon, chicken or beef. The Japanese dinners are served in a traditional Bento Box which has compartments filled with vegetable tempura, Japanese potato salad and rice. The menu also includes Donburi (rice bowls with topping including chicken, pork, beef, barbecue eel, and shrimp tempura) and Japanese noodles (Udon, Soba, or Ramen) with vegetables and meat or seafood, made either stir-fry or soup style.

No Japanese restaurant would be complete without sushi! It is one of the healthiest and nutritious Japanese dishes.

Sushi does not mean raw fish, rather it is vinegar-seasoned rice, which can be hand formed (Nigiri style) and topped with assorted cooked and raw ingredients or rolled with seaweed (Maki style). All of the ingredients in sushi -- fish and seafood, rice, vinegar, vegetables, Nori (seaweed), wasabi (Japanese horse radish) and Gari (pickled ginger) -- have excellent nutritional qualities. There is no MSG added to any of the dishes.

Non-traditional sushi, such as California roll (avocado, crab surimi and cucumber) and Zen Roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado), which were developed in this country, are the most popular.

Since opening, ZEN HOUSE has added several specialty sushi rolls, including a Vegetarian roll, Caterpillar roll, Rainbow roll and many others. There are about two dozen specialty rolls, not listed on the menu, but served as daily specials. Aug. 1, a sushi bar was opened inside the restaurant, adding more authenticity and ambience. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to closing time.

ZEN HOUSE also caters to customers on the go with its "Grab-n-Go" case, which carries prepackaged sushi made fresh daily. Prepackaged sushi is also available at First Oriental Grocery on First Street near St. Luke's hospital.

ZEN HOUSE is located in Hermantown at the corner of Maple Grove and Haines Road, adjacent to the ICO gas station.

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It might seem an unusual location, but it is a place which serves great food.

"This is not a typical gas station restaurant," says Yasuko. "It is tastefully decorated and has a calm atmosphere. My husband helped to make this place look more authentic, using bamboo and shoji paper screen."

Since opening 14 months ago and undergoing the changes mentioned, ZEN HOUSE has developed a following.

"Many of our customers are regulars," Yasuko says, "and new customers often leave with a copy of our menu."

While many people may choose not to eat Japanese food on every day, it is certainly worth a visit. Business hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., and Sunday, 12 - 7 p.m. The menu is also online at www.zenhouse-ico.com .

Cook-off

ZEN HOUSE is hosting Cast Iron Cook-Off , a benefit for Animal Allies, on Sunday, Aug. 19, from 1 - 4 p.m. Tickets are $15, which includes sampling of food from local chef contestants and door prizes. Anyone interested in supporting this benefit or knowing more about the restaurant, please call 722-ZEN5 (9365).

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