TNT Diner

Yes, there's fire, lobster, steak and a lot of sushi at University Place's newest restaurant

Fire and spatula theatrics are common themes at Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi in University Place.
Fire and spatula theatrics are common themes at Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi in University Place.

When a teppanyaki restaurant opens (which is not often), I inevitably encounter those who have no idea what that is.

What’s yum yum sauce?

Why did that chef throw food at me?

Here are some answers and a first-bite look at the 198-seat Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi in University Place, which opened March 27. It’s the area’s newest teppanyaki restaurant.

What’s teppanyaki? It’s sometimes called hibachi. Think of teppanyaki as dinner and a show. Diners are seated at communal tables with room for up to a dozen people who watch as a chef cooks dinner to order on a large flat-top grill. The multi-course meal includes a choice of meat, ranging from New York steak to teriyaki-style chicken.

What comes with a meal? At Sapporo, choose your meat or seafood (or vegetables for non meat eaters). Accompaniments include soup, salad, vegetables, fried rice or fried noodles.

Is it well priced? Depends on what you consider well priced, but teppanyaki meals at Sapporo start at $18 for teriyaki-style chicken, $22 for New York steak. all the way up to $24 to $48 for fancy seafood and steak combinations. That includes all the multi-course fixings mentioned above. Kid-sized teppanyaki meals are $9 to $12.

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A flaming volcano built from onions on the teppanyaki grill at Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi. Sue Kidd

What’s yum yum sauce? It’s the creamy, tangy dipping sauce that comes with your teppanyaki meal. The other sauce at Sapporo is a soy sauce flavored with ginger.

The chef really throws food at you? Only if you want. Chefs at teppanyaki tables are known for their spatula antics, and Sapporo was no different.

Our chef diced zucchini and flipped it into the mouths of willing participants (our chef was 1 for 3 with hits/misses).

The chef also ran through the typical showmanship of a teppanyaki chef. He built an onion volcano and set it on fire before dicing it up with other vegetables. He also did some fancy egg tossing while assembling the fried rice.

Any surprises? Yes, actually. Teppanyaki was just as I knew it would be with the cutesy dinner theatrics and straightforward food, but Sapporo has a dual purpose. It also comes with a sushi bar, an unusual find in University Place.

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The bar at Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi seats more than 20. Sue Kidd

That sushi bar: Opposite the teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar seats 10 with a handful of surrounding tables. The sushi list is lengthy with nearly 50 rolls ($4 to $15), plus nigiri and sashimi ($4 to $6). I don’t think University Place has had this broad of a sushi selection since Osaka operated in that same strip mall. University Place is a city desperately short on restaurants, so the restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept is smart planning by owners Tina and Max Lee.

Bar: Seating for more than 20. Happy hour is 3-5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close on weekdays. The happy hour menu listed $4 sushi rolls and appetizers.

Full cocktail menu with everything from a sake martini ($7.25) to a high octane booze extravaganza called a Flaming Volcano Bowl that is built for two ($15).

Seating: The most cohesive and expansive layout I’ve seen at any local teppanyaki restaurant. The dining room holds 12 tables. Two alcoves offer more private gatherings. Teppanyaki is to the right side of the building. The sushi counter and bar are on the left as you enter.

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A tatami-style private room at Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi in University Place. Sue Kidd

Reservations? A must. It was mayhem at my visit although the staff seemed to be handling the chaos just fine.

The rest of the menu? Diners seated in the sushi bar area also can order from a list of Japanese entrees that includes donburi ($15 to $20), teriyaki ($14 to $22), miso black cod ($21) beef negimaki ($17) and many others. A lunch menu includes bento boxes ($12), sushi roll combinations ($9 to $11) and noodle dishes ($11 to $13).

The owners: Tina and Max Lee operated similar teppanyaki-sushi restaurants in New York before coming here to open their first restaurant in the area. They’re already working on their second location in Lakewood.

More teppanyaki? Find more teppanyaki at Mandolin or Samurai’s in Tacoma, Iron Chef in Puyallup or Mizu in Gig Harbor.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner

Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse

Where: 3810 Bridgeport Way W., University Place

Info: 253-433-3803,

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday.