Consider Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi two restaurants in one.
Since its March opening in University Place, Sapporo probably has become better known as a hibachi restaurant, a style of cooking where chefs do a live cooking show at communal tables outfitted with a giant teppanyaki grill from which diners are directly served. Chefs are known for their fiery kitchen tricks and intricate spatula work.
Veer to the left upon entry, beyond the bar, and find the other restaurant concept: a sushi bar.
It’s an unexpected find in a city notoriously short on locally owned, non-chain restaurants (yet home to the region’s three best grocery stores).
Tina and Max Lee moved here from New York to open the restaurant modeled after Max’s family’s other restaurants in New York. Tina grew up in Renton and also comes from a restaurant family.
One of the family’s former chefs, Wally Zhao, followed the Lees here. The other Sapporo sushi chef is longtime local sushi chef, Kurby Yang.
The restaurant will appeal to a few different kinds of sushi eaters.
“We have different categories on our menu to appeal to everyone’s needs. If people don’t like raw, we have plenty of options for cooked,” said Tina, who said she’s still trying to figure out what diners here want.
For fans of Americanized sushi — something similar to what Trapper’s serves — find oversized maki stacked with myriad ingredients, such as the flavor-drenched Angry Dragon roll with shrimp, spicy tuna and mango ($13) or the fully cooked deep-fried Sapporo roll with cream cheese, avocado, tuna and crab inside ($11).
I spotted two things that I knew would sit especially well with sashimi fans, market-priced toro and uni.
The former is fatty tuna belly and my go-to sushi treat. The latter is sea urchin and an acquired taste for some.
The presence of both should telegraph that in a region where sushi is sold as an everyday, convenience food at grocery stores, Sapporo takes more than a casual interest in sushi. That's also true for the menu listing “omakase,” which is basically a chef's choice arrangement that says, “Hey, chef. I like sushi. Make me what you like.” At Sapporo, there’s a $50 minimum order for omakase, so put it on the bucket list.
After eating Sapporo’s fatty tuna — which arrived in a generous portion of three jiggly wedges for a modest price of $12 — I’m also putting Sapporo into the good value category.
A recent visit sealed that proclamation when I eyed the Monday-Saturday lunch specials of three rolls for $11 or two rolls for $9. The list of rolls includes more than 30 maki. Three selections of nigiri/sashimi combinations are also well priced at $10 to $13.
I tested my theory that the chef is generous with his fish slicing when I ordered the four-piece nigiri/three-piece sashimi lunch combination for $13.
Three big pieces of tuna sashimi shimmered on the edge of the plate, flanking a generous slice each of white tuna, yellowtail tuna, salmon and red snapper, served nigiri style draped over wedges of rice. All that good fish for 13 bucks? Really? I’m sold.
I also tested the three rolls for $11 lunch special and was rewarded with tightly wound maki, mostly minus distracting embellishments.
The fish-to-avocado ratio on a salmon-avocado roll skewed in favor of salmon, which I wasn’t expecting for that fair price. The same for a simple yellowtail roll with a seaweed wrapper tightly encasing more tuna than rice and dotted with scallions and sesame seed for a simple flavor boost. The spicy tuna also was restrained to a manageable level of spice.
As the Lees sort through the menu to appeal to local palates, expect a few raw fish additions. Lee said she’s thinking about adding poke to the menu.
Sapporo Sushi Menu
Here are the nuts and bolts of the sushi menu.
Lunch sushi: The above mentioned $9 for two rolls and $11 for three rolls, plus the three sushi combination plates, $10 to $13. Served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Rice: White rice comes standard on maki, but brown available for 50 cents to $1 a roll.
More nigiri and sushi combinations: 14 combinations that range from an eight-piece of specialty nigiri and a tuna roll ($18) to chirashi ($24) to a monster combo called “family tree” with 18 pieces sashimi, 12 nigiri and 6 maki ($95), plus omakase, or “chef’s choice,” for a $50 minimum.
Cut/hand rolls: More than 30 styles of basic rolls including straightforward yellowtail, salmon, snapper and eel. Also listed are six vegetarian rolls ($4 to $5). Any roll can be a maki or a hand roll.
Specialty rolls: Specialty rolls include 18 additional rolls with more dramatic presentations and ingredients ($10 to $15).
Sashimi and nigiri: 26 different styles of raw sashimi and nigiri that come in pairs served by the slice (sashimi) or draped over rice (nigiri), $4 to $6. Cooked also available (egg, tofu, shrimp, etc.).
Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi
Where: 3810 Bridgeport Way W., University Place
Info: 253-433-3803 or sapporosteakhouse.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday