During a brief phone interview a few months ago, a representative of Ohjah Japanese Steakhouse told me the owners’ goal was to make Japanese food, especially teppanyaki — the “Japanese steakhouse” subset of the cuisine — accessible to everyone on a regular basis, instead of just as a special-occasion thing. After dining there, I’d say they succeeded.
First: We arrived with no reservation — which is the sort of thing people tend to do when going to a neighborhood restaurant — and it was no problem; we were seated immediately. We were at the Ohjah location at Decatur Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road, which has six teppanyaki areas. While we’ve had the experience at other places of having to wait (and sometimes wait and wait) until the seats at the table filled up, that clearly isn’t the practice at Ohjah; we saw one table where a woman and her daughter were dining alone, simply because nobody had come in before it was time for the chef to get started. As for our table, two parties of two joined us in quick succession because the dinner hour was picking up.
Another thing: It’s possible to order sushi to augment your meal at Ohjah. We’ve known some Japanese steakhouses that don’t permit the mixing of their various dining areas/styles, which never made good business sense to us.
And then there’s the slight softening of the menu. This doesn’t reach the level of a dumbing-down because the substituted dishes are very good in their own right. Instead of the miso soup that’s de rigueur at a lot of Japanese steakhouses, Ohjah serves a mild onion broth containing pieces of sauteed onion, with fried noodles floating on top. Instead of the raw-ginger dressing most serve — what has become known as the “Benihana” dressing — Ohjah serves a similar version that’s just slightly creamier, slightly milder.
(Oh, and while we’re talking about the salad: At first I was seriously disappointed, confronted as I was with a bowl of torn iceberg with a slice of cucumber and a piece of tomato on top. But then I dug down and discovered a variety of other lettuces, including mache, as well as some raw shredded cabbage. So although some tossing was in order, it wasn’t as it appeared.)
On to the main event: Here Ohjah also employs a customer-friendly practice in that you’re invited to mix and match at will. You start with the Hibachi Basic Entree ($8.95), which includes the soup and salad, vegetables and a choice of steamed white or brown rice, fried rice or noodles, and can add from there.
The vegetables were the standard teppanyaki-restaurant mix of zucchini, onions and mushrooms, but better than most because our chef had allowed the vegetables to stay on the grill surface longer than is common, which caramelized the zucchini and onions nicely.
The fried rice was pretty standard, but the noodles were a treat, just-tender-enough udon sauteed with scallions, which mixed with the vegetables on our plate and made for a very nice combination.
As for the added items, the people at our table added anywhere from one to three to the basic entree. For us it was scallops ($9.55), characteristically tender and sweet, which were grilled long enough to caramelize their surface but not so long as to toughen them.
Ditto for the shrimp ($7.95), a generous serving and an execution that underlined their freshness.
And sukiyaki beef ($7.25), which gave us a little pause because, in addition to a sprinkling of sesame seeds, it was to be finished with teriyaki sauce. Not to worry because this was no cloying condiment; the touch was light, the meat tender and beefy.
Service throughout was very good, our beverage orders taken promptly and soup and salad courses timed well, which enabled us to watch the impromptu show as we ate.
That, of course, was provided by the teppanyaki chef, who was both less corny and more talented than many we’ve encountered. He avoided the cliches (“Japanese snowstorm! Japanese Parkay!”) while putting on an impressive demonstration that involved bouncing eggs repeatedly on his spatula before finally flipping them into his hat or a pocket, and a few of the classics, like the onion-ring volcano.
Most important: He could cook; the shtick didn’t get in the way of the food. Neither did the prices, which can be rather steep at teppanyaki restaurants.
One other thing: The interior of this strip-center spot was quite attractive and varied in the different areas. The teppanyaki room, for example, was mostly dark and sleek, but booths in the dining room were separated by soaring walls punctuated by stylized translucent flowers. There’s also a large sushi bar. All of which added up to a comfortable, pleasant experience.
We’d say the owners have fulfilled their mission nicely.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.