Evening restaurant review
When we heard that Sapporo Japanese Grill had opened next door to the Broadway Cinema down town, we were excited. We visit the cinema every few months, and the prospect of a pre/post movie snack right next door seemed perfect. We are always cautious over newly opened restaurants, I believe its a given that they need time to work through initial teething problems. We held off as long as we could but last weekend we cracked and decided we had to try the place out. Now a couple of months in business, we figured most of the kinks should have been worked out.
We decided to dine out a little earlier than normal, around 5PM. We hoped to be one of the first customers of the evening, and from what we could make out this was the case. As the first customers in an empty restaurant, we thought service would be as fast and error free as it could be for a new business.
Our waitress was certainly keen and friendly. We inquired as to whether they had a liquor menu and they did not, so no sake, beer or wine for us. The point was not elaborated on, so I am not sure if one is in the works. If not that would be a great shame, especially for a restaurant named after one of my favourite Japanese beers.
A first glance of the menu suggested the focus was chiefly sushi items. Even though the menu was sushi oriented, a great deal of the special rolls had ingredients such as mayonnaise or cream cheese. I may be in the minority but these things don’t have any place in sushi for me. I’ve been called a sushi snob before. I won’t deny that. I probably am.
The menu also featured a range of more traditional sushi selections, a small number of appetizers and some poorly explained hot dishes. Some items were not described at all, save for their name. I could make a guess at what the various hibachi items were, but with virtually no description they didn’t jump off the page and inspire me to inquire further with our waitress.
A lot of these items were also priced in the $20 and over bracket. At this price point they really need some explanation. A simple solution would have been the waitress briefly going over the menu, giving a little insight into the options. I’ve found this approach fairly common elsewhere, and hey, it lets the restaurant sell those higher profit margin dishes.
We explained our preference in ordering items one/two at a time and made our first selection, the Sapporo Dragon Roll (Crab Salad, Avocado, Cucumber, Spicy Tuna, 1pc Ebi Shrimp, Eel sauce, Spicy Mayonnaise, $11.50):
We are big fans of spicy tuna, and believed we couldn’t go too far wrong with a restaurants namesake item. We weren’t disappointed, the roll was a pleasant creation. It was also well made, allaying my fears that the two chefs in the open kitchen looked worryingly young.
After what seemed like a considerable wait, the next items to arrive was a Salmon Skin Roll ($5.95) with Albacore Nigiri ($5.50):
While tasty, the roll did not seem to be properly made. It fell apart quite easily, the ingredients not being tightly packed enough. This also made the wait more perplexing, the restaurant wasn’t swamped by orders.
The albacore was fine but I would have loved to have seen it seared, as is common elsewhere. My personal favored preparation is served over at Takashi; it comes to the table freshly seared, still warm on the edges. Its also topped with a little green onion and wasabi adding another flavor dimension.
We were warned in advance that Baked Mussels ($5.50) do take time to prepare, we were more than happy with this.
Baked mussels are a favorite of ours at our regular haunt of Kyoto. Whilst baking the mussels can take a while, they are usually worth the wait. Sapporo’s offering differed from what we are normally accustomed to. Kyoto’s preparation sees the mussel chopped into quite small pieces, whereas at Sapporo the dish features larger pieces of mussel. I must admit to preferring the smaller bites of mussel. Wendi was more than happy with the dish though and happily finished it off.
To mix things up we thought we would try something other than sushi. After confusing our Waitress with ordering an appetizer after sushi, we chose the Gyoza ($5.50):
6 fried dumplings, stuffed with pork. These sat atop a little Sriracha sauce. I actually found these quite tasty. They also flew out the kitchen, arriving at our table within a few short minutes of ordering. In fact based on the wait for earlier items, we were quite taken aback by the pace at which they appeared.
This was also the case of the last roll we ordered. It too came at a staggeringly fast pace, even more confusing was that the restaurant was now quite full with customers. It was clear that the kitchen must still be working out some kinks.
We finished with the Playboy Roll (Shrimp Tempura, Tuna, Avocado, Spicy Mayonnaise, Eel, $11.50):
Frankly the roll seemed to be lacking in inspiration. Whilst not terrible, it was less than memorable. Roll construction was again a tad sloppy, the central section not being correctly cut.
Paying for the meal took longer than should have been necessary. This is one of my personal bugbears, and causes me endless frustration. As far as I am concerned, as soon as plates are cleared from the table it should be standard practice to confirm if the meal is complete and then present the bill at once. This was not the case at Sapporo, with our waitress disappearing for what seemed like forever. We watched as she waited on other tables while we sat and twiddled our thumbs. Whilst the restaurant had grown quite busy by this time, the three floor staff should have been able to cope easily.
Sapporo has a superb location, primed for a business to excel. Sat amidst an array of offices, I’d imagine they could do great lunch business. The dining space also has doors that open up for prime outdoor dining in summer months. Similarly in the evening, being right next to the Broadway Cinema, they could do a roaring trade with cinema goers. Both these types of client however would require a far faster dining experience than we encountered.
We left Sapporo with the feeling of an opportunity missed. We both felt they could improve by reworking the menu. It needed more focus, Wendi actually commented earlier in the meal at the lack of menu cohesion. Personally, I would have loved to see a larger appetizer selection along the lines of the Gyoza. Items like Yakitori, small, bite sized selections would fly out of the kitchen and make for a great quick lunch or pre-movie snack.
Salt Lake City has a vast array of Japanese options, competition as fierce as the proliferation of Thai. Moreover the clients of these long standing restaurants are often staunch in their support of their chosen venue. I will be interested to see how Sapporo Japanese Grill evolves and grows in what is already a massively competitive landscape.
I am not aware of a website for Sapporo Japanese Grill, it is located at 111 E 300 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.