Restaurant review: Osaka’s split dining experienceIn America, teppanyaki is culinary vaudeville. It’s not really about the food. Rather, the Japanese cooking style using an iron griddle is about the show – cooks flipping food from the griddle to plates, fancy slicing and dicing, etc.
By: Eric Daeuber, Special to the Forum, INFORUM
Osaka Sushi and Hibachi
1111 38th St. S., Fargo
• Food: 3 stars(out of 4)
• Service: 2 1/2 stars
• Ambiance: 3 1/2 stars
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays; noon to 11 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 10 p.m. Sundays
Phone: (701) 282-3888
Reservations accepted: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Dress: As you like
Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express
In America, teppanyaki is culinary vaudeville.
It’s not really about the food. Rather, the Japanese cooking style using an iron griddle is about the show – cooks flipping food from the griddle to plates, fancy slicing and dicing, etc.
So it’s tempting to leave a review of Fargo’s Osaka restaurant to a theater critic. It’s a dining experience with a little more of the value being applied to the experience and a little less to the dining.
Hibachi-style dining is fun. There’s no denying that. It can make soul mates out of strangers and brings back some of the intimacy of communal dining.
But there are two sides to this restaurant in the old Timberlodge building. On the north end you’ll find the teppanyaki grills with all the acrobatics and pyrotechnics associated with that sort of dining, and on the other end you’ll find a nicely appointed, and substantially more relaxed, dining room that takes advantage of, rather than tries to cover up, the room’s previous north woods heritage.
The choices in Osaka’s north side are simple. You can get vegetables, chicken, steak or seafood ($13.95 to $29.95) and your selection can be paired with fried rice or white rice.
Plus, do you want Saki squirted in your mouth or not? The experience can make fools and friends of us all.
The food is stir-fried on a flat surface, dressed with soya sauces, served with flair and the quality is excellent. Vegetables are fresh and the meats are done to order.
This kind of restaurant experience is about keeping the dinner and the show in balance and at Osaka the balance isn’t kept as carefully as it should be.
A look around the room makes it clear that not all the chefs are spatula Samurai of the same caliber.
Our chef lost touch with us when he wasn’t flipping eggs into his hat and much of the meal was passed in silence. The beef ordered rare didn’t see the grill until very late in the meal; so at least one person in our party ended up with a three-course meal, eating each side dish before it turned cold on the plate and ending with a beautifully done but rather late steak. This seems like a small thing, but if you’re there for the classic dinner show both parts of that equation matter.
If you venture to Osaka for the food, there’s a better menu on the south side of the restaurant.
The atmosphere in the restaurant’s south-side dining room is very different with contemporary Asian music and minimalist décor providing an upscale feel. The cabin interior left over from the Timberlodge days is used so well that you’d think it was designed to reflect modern Japanese architecture’s affection for nature.
The menu leans heavily toward sushi and fish – which is fresh and substantially cut – with rice that’s on the mild side.
Some of the kitchen dishes are unremarkable. For instance, the teriyaki is passable but the prices are high ($17.95 for beef teriyaki) and you’ll find better value and more fun around Osaka’s hibachi grills for that sort of dish.
But there are several hot items on the menu worth mentioning, including the Seafood Soup ($15.95) which is loaded with scallops, shrimp and whitefish. These items tend to fall apart or dry out in broth, but in this soup they come together with asparagus, mushrooms and noodles to make a dish with a variety of textures and complementary flavors.
Osaka’s wine list is basic but there is a variety of Saki with quality choices starting at $15 for 300 milliliters.
Service on the dining room side is a bit impersonal but it’s fast and the servers know the menu. On the hibachi side, the servers are very accommodating. Were it not for the skill level of some of the teppanyaki chefs – which one might expect to improve over time – the service rating would certainly be higher.
It wasn’t that long ago that someone keen on Japanese food would have to run up to Winnipeg to fix a craving. Today, the growth of Japanese dining options in Fargo-Moorhead is on track to outpace Italian restaurants in the near future.
Osaka brings some new things to this expanding table. Time will tell if the Midwestern taste for quality Asian can keep up.
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.