JoJo Chen and his sister, Ping Chen, met us recently to introduce us to their new restaurant, Saku Japan Hibachi & Ramen Express.
Other family members and a business partner also were on the opening team of their first restaurant, Ichiban Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar in Owasso.
The two restaurants have only a passing resemblance to each other.
The Owasso restaurant features knife-flinging fiery shows from talented hibachi chefs, beautiful sushi, a rather high-end regular menu and a full bar.
The new restaurant, located on 71st Street across from Woodland Hills Mall, has a much shorter menu, no sushi and no cocktail bar. Customers order at the counter, and food is brought to the tables.
Most of the food still is cooked on an hibachi grill, and it has an open kitchen, but there is no show.
“We had been looking for some place to open another restaurant,” said JoJo, who plans to spend most of his time at the new restaurant until it gets off the ground, then travel back and forth from Tulsa to Owasso.
“With this restaurant, we can make the food much less expensive, and we can cook the orders quicker. We can serve a lot more customers faster.”
Saku has a variety of appetizers, four ramen dishes, stir-fried rice and noodle dishes, and a selection of hibachi-cooked entrees. The ramen bowls are $11, plus $1 extra for chicken, shrimp or pork. The hibachi dishes range from $6 (vegetable) to $11.99 (filet mignon).
We warmed up with a bowl of edamame ($3), two pork egg rolls ($3) and five shrimp tempura ($6).
The edamame was well-steamed and tender, and the crispy egg rolls came with a nice soy-based sauce and a sweet-and-sour sauce. The clear winner, however, was the long, slender strips of lightly battered shrimp meat on a stick. It also came with sweet-and-sour sauce.
Two of the hibachi dishes also were standouts. Chunks of filet mignon ($11.99) were cooked medium-rare, as ordered, and were tender and flavorful. They were served with moist fried rice (steamed rice and noodles also were an option) and a veggie medley of zucchini, broccoli, onions and mushrooms.
A combination of New York strip steak and shrimp ($9.99) also was impressive. The dish held a mound of pieces of steak that weren’t as tender as the filet but still tender enough, plus about 15 small shrimp cooked perfectly. It had the same side choices as the filet dish.
The toroniku ramen bowl with pork ($12) literally was heavy it held so much food. This bowl included a bunch of thin noodles, ear mushrooms, crab, seaweed, bamboo shoots, corn, a boiled egg and slices of fish cakes. It was topped with two slices of flavorful, fatty pork.
JoJo showed me in the kitchen how he prepares the basic ramen broth, which had a subtle salinity and mild flavor. In a large, electric cooker, he combines such items as half chickens, corn on the cob and seaweed, and simmers the broth for 10 hours every day.
The second man in the kitchen is Chef Zhang, whose full name we didn’t quite catch.
Most everything in Saku is shiny and new, including the open, stainless-steel kitchen. A table in the middle of the room seats eight and in the center holds a lucky bamboo plant in a glass dragon.
The remainder of the seating, which holds up to 50 customers, is at tables and booths.
Another eye-catching decoration is a huge, long and beautiful wall mural over the pass-through to the kitchen.
Saku, which opened in late December, sits on a corner in the shopping center and easily can be seen from 71st Street.
Another new place just down the sidewalk, Cha Bubble Tea, opened in December. It features boba teas, regular teas, yogurt drinks and coffees. A sign between Cha and Saku says a banh mi and pho restaurant is coming soon.