Scottsdale's Sapporo restaurant celebrated its ten-year anniversary with a facelift -- not a total overhaul, but a graceful update overseen by the new owners, San Francisco-based Tavistock Group.
The remodeled decor features a vibrant red color scheme, with two massive sake barrel replicas in the dining area and a Japanese torii gate beckoning guests into the bar.
It's too bad the jellyfish tanks had to go, but we can imagine the upkeep costs might have been a dealbreaker, especially in this economy.
Sapporo is suffering a bit of an Asian identity crisis, but if you can get past the eclectic mix of cuisines, the food is likeable. Executive Chef Stephen Stromberg's menu highlights sushi, rice bowls, pan-Asian cuisine with a modern twist and the popular teppanyaki grill. Daytime service has been tweaked to include ramen and hoisin pork belly, pad thai tacos and smaller happy hour teppanyaki portions.
Sadly, we missed out on the cleverly named Three Sum combo plate, one of the most intriguing new lunch items. But we did have the opportunity to sample a few of Sapporo's other delights...
Sushi was standard; fresh-tasting pieces of salmon and yellowtail atop perfectly cooked vinegar rice. More interesting is the surf-and-turf roll topped with seared thin-sliced steak and the delicious calamari fries, which have a distinct spicy breading that intensifies when paired with creamy, hot remoulade. Stromberg's amuse bouche of truffled beef carpaccio with mushroom poki was clean and earthy.
Teppanyaki was presented with the requisite showmanship. Despite Tavistock's intention to downplay the corny factor, our Teppan chef yukked it up with bad jokes, shrimp-tail flinging and the classic flaming onion volcano. Not that we're complaining. Frankly, the experience just wouldn't be worthwhile without seeing a friend flustered after trying to catch what appears to be a raw egg thrown at her by the chef (luckily, it's fake). Shrimp was tangy and plump after being cooked on the flat grill. Calamari steak couldn't live up to its breaded appetizer cousin, but was flavorful and not too rubbery. A sample of the newly added kurobuta pork chop left us wishing we'd ordered it for the main course. Delicious!
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As for libations, $20 for a cocktail seems excessive until you see a giant metal mixing bowl of flaming alcohol headed your way. The restaurant has dubbed the shareable drink, "The Sapporo Torch." We call it our "Saturday Night Downfall." You'll only need one for the table to share, it's so dangerously potent. Gingered Bourbon Lemonade and a Cucumber Sage Martini were also among the "Liquid Market" cocktails enjoyed at our table. If you decide to down a few of these, be glad Sapporo offers free shuttle service within a ten-mile radius.
There was so much food served at our table that we had to skip out before dessert; next time, we're staying for Stromberg's homemade sorbet and a taste of the banana spring rolls.