Jul 5, 2021

Discover the Beauty of Normandale Japanese Garden and The Charm of Mizu Sushi Bar


Normandale Japanese Garden

Would you like to take a casual walk to explore traditionally groomed gardens, peaceful ponds or find a place to sit quietly to immerse in the landscape and untangle the mind? The perfect destination and ideal place for that would be at a Japanese garden. 

These elements and more can be found here at the Normandale Japanese Garden located in Bloomington, MN.  It’s not large in size, but contained in its 2 acres as you pass through the traditional entrance is a gleaming jewel that beholds the eye. It’s almost a magical feeling as you enter and feel the outside world fall away. 

The Japanese gardening tradition has been under development for more than a 1000 years.  The main purpose is to bring serenity and nature into our crowded lives and to enhance the quality of human life.

Each element in the garden utilizes an important role in Japanese culture with its history and in religious symbolism.  Learn more about the garden elements, their meaning and purpose at Japanese Garden Elements.

Here at the Normandale Japanese Garden all of these important elements of symbolism and philosophies were built and constructed on the land donated by the Normandale Community College with funds raised by the Bloomington Affiliated Garden Clubs.  More on its history here

When I'm out and about on my nature hikes, I always love when I come across cute little crossing bridges.  So, of course, I absolutely gravitated to the unique style of The Taiko-bashi (drum-shaped bridge) that crosses over to the Bentendo.  The hexagon-shaped building on one of the three islands. Bentendo, is a combination of two words: Benten is a goddess of fortune; “do” is a suffix used to indicate certain kinds of buildings. Find more garden information at Normandale Tour the Garden.

Another favorite was, The Waterfall.  Discovering waterfalls in nature this last year has been an ongoing list of achievements I’ve been trying to check off.  However, this man-made waterfall was just as mesmerizing and soothing. 

The red flat bridge is a colorful focal point of the garden. The color red in Japanese culture represents wisdom, transformation and all that is sacred.  Its spiritual meaning symbolizes the journey between the mortal world into the afterlife, and the cleansing of ones worldly burdens that follow.

More on the significance of bridges can be found here at the Big Blog of Gardening.

Just ahead of the red flat bridge you'll crossover the small Zig-Zag bridge where you'll be entertained by koi fish swimming in the pond. Take a seat on the bench alongside the pond and watch them dip and rise to the surface as if to greet you.  Koi fish are known to swim against the current and overcome obstacles, so they have come to symbolize courage, perseverance and strength. Also, since they can grow large and live a long life, koi are placed in Japanese gardens as a symbol of luck and prosperity. 

The plant materials are simplistic and restrain from showiness, but instead demonstrate artful pruning and are sheared to represent small hills and clouds. Flowers and colors are used sparingly.  Most of the plants grown at Normandale are different from those found in the gardens of Japan. Traditional plants would not survive our Minnesota winters. 

I’ve featured the gardens of Normandale Japanese Garden, but there are several Japanese Gardens around the Twin Cities that you can wander about and enjoy their surroundings.

Continuing with the Japanese theme, we'll go across town to the northeast part of the Twin Cities to Mizu Japanese restaurant located in White Bear Lake.

Mizu Japanese Sushi Bar

When I mention sushi to friends they're either a sushi lover or they're not!  I'll admit there was a time sushi seemed way too adventurous for my palate. But, more and more sushi restaurants have gained popularity in the Twin Cities and I've had several sushi-loving friends tell me about their favorite sushi rolls.  

So, I truly made an effort several years back to try what I call the entry level to sushi, which is either the California roll or vegetable roll. The California roll includes ingredients of rice, cucumber, crab and avocado. The vegetable roll, which doesn't include seafood is any combination of cucumber, avocado, sliced carrots, zucchini or peppers and rice wrapped in the center of a traditional sushi roll.

Starting at this level is how I discovered the combination of these fresh ingredients were pretty tasty and really not so intimidating.

With that said, let's check out my experience at Mizu Japanese in White Bear Lake.  Let's start by entering into the bright and modern atmosphere of the restaurant defined by the prominent bar stretching the length of the space.  The bar and tables are nicely adorned with classic white settings and the surrounding windows highlight the dining area with a beautiful view of the lake.  

Mizu also has outside seating on the front deck where you can enjoy the full affect of the lake, the boardwalk vibes and the activities from the neighboring Tally's Dockside and Acqua restaurants.  Acqua is their sister restaurant offering elegant fine dining and specialized Italian cuisine.

My sushi worldliness is limited, so with this visit I wanted to take in the full experience and sit up to the sushi bar, chat with the sushi chef, ask questions and explore something new. 

So, while Ricky was making my Tempura Roll, I was examining the menu items and started firing questions at him.  

"What is on the Japanese Pickle Plate?"  
"What is Shiso?"  
"How is the Pickled Plum prepared?"
"What is Tobiko?"
"Is Daikon spicy?"
"Ricky, am I irritating you?" 😆

Seriously, he was very knowledgeable and kindly answered all my questions.  How do you find these things out unless you ask....right?

Here is my Tempura Roll, which includes Tempura Shrimp, Spicy Aioli, Avocado, Cucumber, and Nori.  The presentation is awesome too! 

Tempura is the crunchy breaded coating on the shrimp, which creates a great contrast to the buttery avocado with a fresh crunch from the cucumber. Very tasty!

The Tempura Roll was pretty filling by itself, but since it was during their happy hour, I decided to continue my happy visit and try the Pickled Plum/Shiso Roll for a sushi finale.  

Shiso is type of Japanese mint and when married with the pickled plum it hits the taste buds with a unique flavor combination.  Sweet plums are fermented giving a sweet and sour flavor and the shiso adds a touch of mint and earthy spice to balance it out while leaving a refreshing finish.  

It's a simple presentation, but packs a powerful punch to savor!

Their menu had so many options and way to much for me to try in one visit, so I went back the following week. This time, a sushi-loving friend joined me on the deck while enjoying the quenching view of the lake. So, it made perfect sense to try the Lake Monster Roll.  In addition, we shared a Spicy Salmon Roll.

Lake Monster Roll includes blue crab and asparagus on the inside and the outside is shrimp, seaweed salad, red chili and we opted out of the lemon tobiko (tobiko is fish eggs).  I draw the line on fish eggs. 😳

I think the Lake Monster Roll was my favorite (excluding fish eggs) 😝  This was also my first taste of seaweed salad and it was surprisingly delicious! 

The stringy seaweed greens are mild tasting and probably similar to thinly shredded cabbage or ribbon sliced asparagus. Then the seaweed is marinated in a lovely combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and other Asian spices.

I found Mizu Japanese to be charming, cheerful and the restaurant staff were very helpful. Since I'm a sushi rookie, I appreciated their service and answering all my questions!

Besides Mizu Japanese there are other wonderful restaurants, bars, brewery, shopping and boutique options in Downtown White Bear Lake.  You could easily spend a day adventuring the downtown and lake area.

If you're interested in visiting the Japanese Garden or Mizu, I've included location maps and a review of article links below.

Normandale Japanese Garden

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