When Anju opened several years ago, my friends and colleagues were excited to have this beautiful, “cool,” and affordable option in downtown Bloomington. And like the pre-meal bourbon I sipped on, it’s only gotten better with age. After prepping for a move, my husband and I treated ourselves to a date night at the farm-to-table restaurant.
The weekend evening crowds can make the wait a bit long (and they only take reservations for large parties), so we opted for a week-day night trip. If you do have a wait and the Anju bar is packed, there’s an awesome arcade bar — 8 Bit Arcade & Bar — right next door!
The host and wait staff were on the ball. We were seated quickly and had drinks in hand within five minutes of walking in. Anju has an extensive cocktail menu, and talented bartenders. I always enjoy trying something new they’ve concocted. My first drink was the Lion’s Whiskers (server recommended, $7.50) made with bourbon, house allspice dram, honey, lemon, and orange bitters. The citrus is tempered nicely by the richness of the bourbon.
Anju’s menu is a mix of Asian cuisine — sushi, hand rolls, grain bowls, etc. — and wood-fired pizzas. The open-air kitchen’s menu encourages you to eat, drink, and share. We started with the vegetarian steam buns ($5.75). While you’re waiting on your food to arrive, soak in the chefs prepping and the bar staff mixing and shaking. It’s an experience.
The vegetarian steam buns are rich and doughy, stuffed with smoked tofu, caramelized onion, mushroom, and kimchi, and topped with lightly pickled veggies. The buns are soft on the outside, and the veggies inside provide a crunch with tangy and earthy flavors through each bite. All of their steamed buns, or dumplings, are delicious, and if you go with a partner be prepared to fight over the last one (they come in threes).
My husband’s main course was the spicy salmon sushi ($10.25). Delicately sliced salmon, carrots, and daikon radish are rolled in rice, wrapped in seaweed, and sliced into thin bite-sized portions. Topped with masago (a type of roe) and fresh jalapeños, and paired with a dollop of wasabi and a spicy mayo, this dish brings the heat. It’s beautifully crafted, delicious, and surprisingly simple. If you’re worried about the heat a quick bite of pickled ginger (served on the side) will cleanse your palate and prepare you for your next shared plate.
Even though my husband pointed out I’d been eating pizza all week, I had to get the funghi supreme ($10.75), a tomato-based pie with mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, black olives, and red onion. I kept those olives off. It’s good pizza. The crust has the crispy edges from the heat, but a soft center. The ingredients from sauces to cheese to veggies were balanced. The mushrooms gave it an earthy taste that felt right with the cooking method. The highlight of the dish were the root veggie chips on top. Great on the pizza, and perfect as a peeled off crunchy “potato” chip. I ate one more slice than I thought I could.
We also wanted to try something that was a little different than everything else: the chilled soba noodle bowl (buckwheat noodles, avocado, carrot, chili Llme, radish, sesame, Granny Smith apple, peanuts; $9.50). This was, unfortunately, one of our least favorites. It was texturely an interesting dish. I enjoyed the firmness of the noodles, but the sauce plus ingredients — apples, carrots, radish — made it a bit too sweet. I did end up adding some red pepper flakes, which helped balance. Some more fire, and the full list of ingredients might have transformed it a bit; it was missing the avocado. The peanut sank to the bottom, making them easy to miss in a bite.
While we let our feast settle, I ordered another drink while we perused their dessert menu. It was date night, after all, so we just went all in. The Anju punch ($6) changes seasonally. My pink concoction was sweet and easy to drink. For dessert we settled on the silken tofu donuts ($5.75), a popular dish that night. I’d go to Anju for the drinks and donuts alone. Golden-fried, coated in cinnamon sugar, resting on a house-made caramel sauce, these donuts are an elevated version of your everyday carnival fare. Again, I ate one more than I thought I possibly could…
It was a fantastic date night location, and a lovely place to unwind after a long week. Anju encourages you to share, to drink, to stay a bit. The staff was attentive to our needs, and we left happy and full. They offer different weeknight specials, and they are very accommodating to dietary restrictions.
220 E Front St, 2nd floor
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Jordan Goebig