The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Socked by the Flavors and the Fun at Sakura

By John DiGilio in Food on Sep 27, 2011 4:00PM

Teppanyaki, the Japanese art of cooking on an iron griddle, is as much about the show as it is the food. If you are going to pay a premium to watch your food cooked in front of you, then it had better be a decent spectacle. More importantly, if you are going to pay a little more for the meal, that little culinary display needs to result in a dish that is nothing short of delicious. Teppanyaki, done right, is both entertaining and tasty. If you are looking for a great dinner and a great show in one, pull up a chair at Sakura Teppanyaki and Sushi in Lakeview.

Sakura is one of the newer arrivals in the recently bustling West Diversey Parkway corridor of dining and shopping. Once the home of a furniture store, this corner location has been beautifully renovated and redesigned to house several teppanyaki stations as well as a sushi bar and dining room. It’s dark and cozy and great for either groups or more intimate pairings. The chefs seemed to be talented, if a bit green at their juggling (we saw more than one fork stray towards a surprised patron during our visit). We had initially planned to sample the sushi last weekend. However, when we saw the pillars of flame leaping and the guests at the teppans having such a good time, we decided to go all out and sit at the griddle.

When you go to teppanyaki, it is always best to go hungry. This is no small meal. Most restaurants like this require you to choose a main course and then load the rest of your plate with rice, stir-fried veggies, salad, soup, and appetizers. When it comes to the accoutrements of the meal, Sakura is no different. They do offer one of the largest choices of entrees that we have seen, however. There are beef, poultry, seafood, and vegetable selections from which to pick. Prices range from about $17 for the vegetarian dinner to $22 for the salmon, $26 for the filet mignon, and up to $36 for lobster. These are just a few of the choices, however. Be mundane and choose the chicken. Or be adventurous and order the squid!

We chose a shrimp dinner and a combined scallops and salmon entree and then sat back to enjoy the show. We were first treated a light and flavorful broth of onions and mushrooms. It was perfect for whetting our appetites. Next came a green salad with a tasty ginger dressing. While we grazed on our greens, the chef began his act. As knives twirled, shakers clanged, and food danced about the grill, our cook prepared meals for seven of us. The portions of fried rice we received were huge and delicious. The sauteed veggies, which included fresh mushrooms, onions, and zucchini, were savory and good. The stars of the show, of course, were the entrees. The shrimp were tender and spiced just right. The scallops were nicely browned on the sides and melted like butter in our mouths. The salmon too was wonderful. It was flaky and had just enough teriyaki sauce to make it sing. When all was said and done (and the last mushroom had been flipped from the grill to someone’s plate), we were barely able to finish. Dessert was not happening.

Again, teppanyaki is a much about the show as it is the food. Our chef certainly did not disappoint. From the volcano he built of onions and cooking oil (a standard favorite in Japanese restaurants) to his jokes and the special attention he paid to the kids at the table, he was clearly taking great pains to make sure we had a great experience. Between his skilled cooking and showmanship, we can happily say that his mission was accomplished. We will go back for the sushi for sure, so long as the glee of the griddle does not distract us again. Thanks to Sakura, it is a wonderful distraction to have.

Sakura Teppanyaki and Sushi is located at 730 West Diversey Parkway. Reservations are recommended.