Okada: Where Japanese tastes run to hot, cold dishes

Friday, Jan. 26, 2007

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff Photo by Reid Silverman
Chef Brian Nguyen is one of five chefs on tap to watch as they prepare teppanyaki entrées at the Okada Seafood & Steak House in California. The restaurant is open daily and also features a sushi bar.

Okada Japanese Seafood & Steak House

23415 Three Notch Road


St. Mary’s County

Hours: 4:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 4:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday

Entrée prices: $3.50-$29.95

Credit cards: MC, V

Reservations, carry out: 301-866-9595; fax 301-866-0500

A flaming grill, a volcanic onion and a plate full of delicious food.

What's not to like about that, especially when the flavors are Japanese?

The Okada Japanese Seafood & Steak House opened November 2006 and business has been pretty steady for the California restaurant.

Usually devotees of the sushi bar, my husband and I decided we'd do the teppanyaki — or grill — dinner last Wednesday night.

We joined a group of five already seated at one of the clean, shiny cook tops and the waitress took our drinks order.

There is plenty from which to choose when looking at Okada's menu. From a la carte appetizers to a variety of beverages, there is something for everyone.

Sitting at the teppanyaki grill is both fascinating and a bit thrilling.

Once all those seated placed their orders — each grill area will seat 10 — we waited for the magic moment when our very own personal chef prepared our dinners right in front of us.

There is a parade of dishes which precedes the chef who will prepare the entrees.

While we did not go for the sushi I did want to try their spider roll ($7.50), which has nothing whatsoever to do with arachnids.

The delicately flavored dish is a serving of deep fried soft shell crab rolled up in sticky rice with juliénned cucumbers, seasoned with spicy mayonnaise and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

It was delicious, all right, and served to take the edge off my appetite.

The spider roll was almost a mistake, though, because the portions served as the entrée are very generous.

The opening acts for the dinner included a miso-spring onion soup, a fresh garden salad with a tasty ginger soy dressing and an appetizer choice of chicken livers, sautéed mushrooms or teppanyaki shrimp flambé.

Tony selected a hibachi combination of filet mignon, scallops and chicken ($24.95) while I chose the filet mignon, lobster and scallops ($29.95).

The chef arrived, complete with trolley cart, two-pronged carving fork, metal spatula and extremely sharp knife.

The first thing he does is ask everyone how they want their filet cooked, which works out well, because Tony loves rare, I prefer medium rare, the next couple liked medium well and the last three wanted well done beef.

That decision taken care of, the platter of beef cubes, chicken, shrimp, scallops and lobster was systematically emptied onto the sizzling hot grill.

This was, though, after the chef made a Smiley face of cooking oil, added something to it and set it aflame. It was a dramatic opening for his subsequent acrobatics and knife skills.

Next he emptied another large platter of cooked rice onto the grill. As it popped and sizzled, the chef juggled an egg in the shell on the flat of his spatula.

He lightly bounced it on one side and then the other until he suddenly flipped it a little higher, held the tool edge up and split the egg, dripping its contents onto the hot grill.

With swift moves of the spatula, he mixed the egg and rice together, adding soy sauce and seasonings.

He had already chopped the beef into cubes, cooked the chicken, sautéed the shellfish and dispersed everyone's meat portions. The mixed vegetables came next and he quickly chopped the onions, zucchini and other selections, lightly cooking them on the hot surface.

The meat, especially the beef, was tasty and as tender as could be. The rice was light and fluffy and the vegetables flavorful. This is not a fast food eatery nor is it an overly relaxed lounge. Drinks and food come when they are ready, usually in good time.

While the food is great, watching is half the fun of eating at Okada.

That goes for the sushi bar, where you can watch the skilled sushi chef slice, mix and roll a variety of fresh ingredients — from raw tuna to any of the cooked seafood rolls, like the shrimp tempura ($6).

Go for lunch, go for dinner, but go — and watch someone else play with your food.