Photos by Craig Bares
Osaka hibachi table
There are more than a baker’s dozen of combination sushi/hibachi steak house restaurants in the metro area. I visited a couple of recent entries in the category to see what they’re cooking up.
Of the seven Osaka eateries around the metro, the newest is a restaurant rehab along 494. The owners have done a commendable job of turning it into a pleasant and comfortable spot. Like Kobe, it offers separate spaces for different dining preferences. The teppanyaki section has roughly 10 large tables with compact griddles and gleaming stainless steel hoods. It’s a miracle how they manage to keep everything spotless. On our lunch visit only two tables were in use, but the chef knocked himself out. From an amazing warm-up display of knife and fork juggling to the now classic “onion volcano,” our chef’s performance was as good as I’ve seen anywhere. The sauteed food was also excellent, particularly the top-notch fried rice.
The sashimi sampling of tuna, yellowtail, and salmon was also high quality, particularly the slices of fat-streaked salmon. Beyond that, everything was run-of-the-mill. Whether it was bland and mushy steamed shrimp shu mai, heavily battered calamari, or the gristly but otherwise flavorful beef teriyaki, the majority of traditional items lacked any compelling sizzle or distinctiveness. Stick to the hibachi and sushi here and you’ll have a pleasing meal. 2631 Southtown Dr., Bloomington, 952-884-3633
As is the case with most places in this genre, the menu at Kobe offers a triple threat of traditional Japanese fare, sushi, and tableside teppanyaki meals. The somewhat cavernous interior is divided into spaces dedicated to each of the specialties, and there’s also a nice patio area. Several appetizer and dinner selections were well above average. Among the standouts were very crisp and flavorful gyoza dumplings, lightly fried calamari ringlets served with pleasant dipping sauces, and, best of all, Kobe beef that could be seared to each guest’s liking on a superheated stone. The thinly cut strips of meat were wonderfully marbled with fat and tender as the dickens. I would absolutely recommend the Kobe over the more mainstream steak teriyaki entrée, which, although nicely prepared, was a bit syrupy and cloying.
When it comes to sushi, I typically eschew overwrought specialty rolls that mask delicate ingredients with overpowering flavors and textures. There’s nothing quite as telling as a simple but elegant order of unadorned sashimi, and both samples I ate had integrity. The thick-cut, rosy-red strips of tuna couldn’t have been finer. Equally indicative of some talent behind the sushi bar was a recommendation our attentive waiter made for a treat of agi (Spanish mackerel). The meat of the fish had been removed and diced, with just a hint of seasoning, into a tartare. The remainder of the fish—head, tail, and all—was battered and fried. The raw ingredients were then mounded back into the body. Between the crispy skin and bones, butter-tender flesh, and delicate fish cheeks, it was a real tour de force.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for our turn at the hibachi table. Although our chef started with a burst of enthusiasm, his intensity quickly flagged and the routine was decidedly abbreviated. Whether his reserve was due to our lack of rapt attention or his own boredom is hard to say, but it was not a prime-time show. The soy-drenched chicken was a bit overcooked and the “special” sauce wasn’t all that special. In fairness, I did see chefs at other tables performing at much higher levels, but that only added to our disappointment. 15555 34th Ave. N., Plymouth, 763-559-9999, kobemn.com