Hot Japanese fun
Super Pan900 15th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
If you haven’t been to Japan, your idea of the restaurants there may be along the lines of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, with a serious chef gently lowering a gleaming piece of fish onto a pat of rice, as if placing a preemie into a bassinet. These hallowed monuments to sushi, tempura and udon certainly exist, but the norm in any of the big cities is closer to the wacky thematic hodgepodge of the classic food comedy Tampopo.
Want to eat a rice-stuffed omelet topped with demi-glace served by gingham-clad women in a facsimile of a ’50s-era American diner? How about “Hawaiian-style” pancakes piled so high with whipped cream and macadamia nuts that the pancake is beside the point (a meal that gave me life after I missed the last subway to my hotel following an all-night karaoke-room-session).
Japan has novelty dishes on lock, and the kicker is that the food is usually quite good, and prepared with care. Super Pan, a wacky-ish teppanyaki and boba café, which in late March took over the space formerly occupied by Zen Sushi, has the novelty part right, and sometimes the quality and care as well.
Super Pan’s gimmick is that most dishes are served on sizzling hot cast iron pans, semi-protected by a cardboard band to prevent burns, and you cook them yourself. The menu presents various iterations of meat/veg/rice with a choice of sauce (from $10.99-$15.99). I sampled thin-sliced beef, salmon and chicken, all with curry sauce. The tender beef was the best, followed closely by the pillow-soft dark-meat chicken, and too-fishy salmon at a distant third. You can add an egg to everything, and also “omelette rice” (usually shortened to “omurice” in Japan) if desired. Everything comes with a mound of white rice and the most boring steamed vegetable assortment found outside of a senior center. A bigger hazard from the sizzling pan than the possibility of burning your hands is the certainty of burning your mouth on the occasional bite that had just been in contact with the metal.
The gooey octopus balls known as takoyaki ($7.99) are notorious as mouth burners, but the version at Super Pan is served at a reasonable temp, likely from being pre-cooked and reheated. They’re the best local version I’ve sampled; a reasonable facsimile of those flipped with chopsticks on the streets of Osaka. The spicy bamboo shoots ($5.99) are served temperature-cool and crunchy, with a surprisingly strong hit of Sichuan peppercorn.
The workaday chashu ramen ($10.99) has an overabundance of pig, both in the form of cubed pork belly and limp strands that resembled raw bacon. The standard bowl comes with corn and lightly cooked spinach, and the broth is moderately savory. It’s not as good as Ryu Jin, but better than Raijin. (How can two restaurants owned by the same person across the street from each other vary so wildly? The sour note of the kimchi in the Korean spicy ramen ($9.99) overpowered both the broth and the Spam.
The boba drinks and large portions may explain why the clientele runs mostly to groups of teenagers struggling to eat Korean chicken wings without breaking eye contact with their phones. Super Pan may struggle to attract the more sophisticated diner.