It takes a chef

Sapporo Grill Steak House

1118 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 448-1818

Two words describe what is best about Sapporo Grill, the self-proclaimed Japanese steakhouse entering its seventh week of operation at the renovated Firestone building in Midtown: Ross Dreizler.

Ross runs things behind the capacious U-shaped sushi bar that occupies one-third of the airy, high-ceilinged, tan-wood-beamed, lacquer-wall-paneled restaurant. No doubt Sapporo’s patriarchs, the brothers Lee, are swell fellas and have clearly sunk a fair chunk of dough into the place. But Bryant and Damon—one runs their Sushi Cafe on Alhambra Boulevard, the other the Freeport Boulevard location—don’t spark return trips. Ross does.

Our first intersection was at the late Three Monkeys, the terrifically schizophrenic barbecue, steak and sushi place at 723 K Street. Peek in the window; menus are still on the tables. Eerie. Paging Rod Serling.

Three Monkeys’ inventive sushi maestro, from whom Ross says he learned a lot, decided to return to the homeland. Now, Ross and fellow chef Tuan continue offering creative—and delectable—sushi at Sapporo. Tuan, a voracious popper of Thai chilies, has bested the maestro on spicy fare, including a feverishly festive sauce for seared ahi that no one has duplicated.

Ross’ usual MO is to modify rolls to suit a customer’s tastes. There was an addictive, tropical red-pepper salsa at Three Monkeys, and Ross would always manage to shoehorn it into a roll. I’m fond of avocado, seaweed salad and heat, which means when I order a poki salad, Ross mixes in avocado slices, a tousle of seaweed and a trail of four hot-sauce dots, ascending in size from fingernail to quarter, near the jumble of tuna chunks.

And this is exactly how the poki looks when he hands it to me over the Hoshizaki sushi cooler.

Ross may have descended from Mount Olympus to bring Five Alarm rolls to mortals—$10 of tempura jalapeños, baby scallops, avocado and spicy tuna—but there are places Sapporo can improve.

The seats at the sushi bar are profoundly low. Munchkinland low.

For a steakhouse, the $24 filet mignon is not, as the menu promises, grilled to perfection. The $65 cut of Kobe is the first choice, but abandoned due to the apoplexy it might cause SN&R’s accountants.

Entrees come with a choice of two side dishes. Among the options are wilted spinach and a fruit basket. There isn’t a speck of seasoning on the spinach. A blizzard of salt and some teriyaki sauce generate some hint of flavor, but shouldn’t that be the chef’s responsibility? A few possibilities: Sauté with garlic. Or shitake. Or both. Toss with ponzu or rice wine vinegar. Sprinkle some red ginger bits on it. Maybe just black sesame seeds.

The fruit basket isn’t exactly the Rainbow Coalition: blueberries, strawberries and apples, albeit crisp Fujis. Go native. Go nuts: mango. papaya, breadfruit. Ponkan. Sudachi. A few of those humongous kyoho grapes?

Those are the key gripes, as opposed to the key grips; back to the pluses. The kabocha-squash bisque is thick and tasty enough to warrant its $10 price, but tastes better with pepper. There’s a bevy of bento-box lunch possibilities—grilled mackerel, chicken katsu, seaweed salad, tempura, sashimi and sautéed vegetables which, hopefully, are seasoned as well as seasonal. A bowl of not-too-salty miso, a generous green salad with two eyes of cherry tomato halves and a couple pieces of California roll accompanies each. There’s udon, too, and a variety of teppan options.

Ross likely won’t be there, but Sapporo swings until 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

If Sapporo was simply a sushi place, Ross easily makes it authoritative. But it’s not. And while the sushi end of things is in capable hands, other areas, although trending upward, aren’t there yet. Nevertheless, it is a good thing to have Ross back downtown.