Dinner and a show

Ojiya serves up tasty Japanese fare with a fun atmosphere

‘READY FOR A SHOW?’<br>Head hibachi chef Max Chen mixes theatrics with his cooking on the teppanyaki grill at Ojiya.

Head hibachi chef Max Chen mixes theatrics with his cooking on the teppanyaki grill at Ojiya.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Ojiya Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
2477 Forest Ave.,
(530) 899-1199
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Ojiya Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar

2477 Forest Ave.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 899-1199

Ever since college, when I lived for a year with two Japanese roommates who loved to cook, I have been drawn to Japanese food, be it traditional, sushi, shabu shabu or teppan-yaki. Back then, I lived in Los Angeles, where there was a restaurant for all tastes. In Chico, our options are somewhat limited. We have some excellent sushi restaurants as well as good traditional fare, but nothing on the teppanyaki front … until now.

As soon as I heard that Ojiya Japanese Steakhouse had opened on the south end of town, I made a mental note to give it time to work out any just-opened glitches and began to prepare myself for the feast—and fun—that would ensue.

Teppanyaki, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, refers to the teppan, or large, flat hibachi, at the center of each table, which sits eight and can be enjoyed by a group of friends or strangers. The chef brings all the ingredients to the table and cooks while you watch and interact. The really good ones put on a great show, complete with flaming Mount Fuji (onions) and utensil juggling. Yaki is the way the food is prepared—fried on the grill.

As a pre-Valentine’s Day treat, my boyfriend and I decided to mosey on down to Ojiya. I was giddy all the way to the door, remembering teppanyaki meals beginning with my pre-senior prom dinner and ending with a particularly sake-filled evening with fellow News & Reviewers in San Francisco.

Apparently it was a slow night, or a slow time, when we arrived, though the smartly decorated dining room was speckled with customers and the sushi bar was full. In the teppan room, though, we got an entire table to ourselves.

After perusing the menu, we decided to start with the assorted sushi appetizer ($10.95). Promptly, six nice-sized pieces of fish, served over rice, were brought to our table. All were delicious, fresh and plump, my favorite being the tuna and salmon. In fact, I’d wager the sushi bar will give others in town a run for their money. (The head sushi chef and one of the restaurant’s owners, Jimmy Hsiung, helped open the sushi bar at Rice Bowl.)

For our main courses—which come with soup, salad, rice ($2.50 extra for fried rice) and shrimp appetizer—I ordered the Ojiya Special (filet mignon, scallops and lobster, $39.95) and my boyfriend, Josh, the Surf & Turf (filet mignon and lobster, $34.95).

The quiet suited us fine, as we were able to chat with our chef while he prepared our food, interspersing conversation with tricks of the trade. What we learned was actually quite interesting: To become a hibachi chef, you must go through an apprenticeship, making it a selective field. Most of Ojiya’s chefs are from Los Angeles and now call Chico home.

The soup, a Japanese sipping broth, and salad, topped with ginger dressing, were both simple and good. What we were most anticipating, however, was the hot part of our meal. We got our fried rice first. It was tasty, with just enough veggies. Then came the steak, which was tender and cooked to perfection. It matched well with the house sauce.

The lobster and scallops also were delicious, with the lobster a bit on the chewy side, but buttery and plump. The scallops were surprisingly a bit bland, but they were cooked right and paired well with the ginger seafood sauce.

Our chef also chopped and cooked a variety of vegetables, including zucchini, mushrooms, onions and sprouts, which complemented the meal. On our way out to the car with to-go boxes, we realized there was one thing missing: We never got our shrimp appetizer! Oh well. We had enough fun and enough good food that it didn’t even matter.