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Osaka lives up to its name
By Nicole Harbour

When Jeremy Martin and Cin Cheung opened Osaka Japanese Restaurant in November 2009, they sought to create an entertaining, fine-dining experience in an area they felt would be open to it.

"We wanted to create a higher-end, affordable restaurant, and we thought Springfield would be a great place to do it," says Martin, co-manager of Osaka. Cheung is the other co-manager. "It's right in between St. Louis and Chicago, two large cities that offer a lot of great restaurants, and we wanted to create a great dining experience here."

Located at 1665 Wabash Ave. in Jerome, Osaka is helping to revive the former location of Cohen's Furniture, which was heavily damaged in 2006 by tornadoes that swept through the area. A combination of Japanese steakhouse, Thai restaurant, sushi and martini bar, the restaurant is attracting a customer base as diverse as its cuisine.

"I love that we have such an array of customers," Martin says. "Whether it be a family with kids, a group of guys who want to come in for sushi and drinks, or a group of women having a girls' night that wants martinis, we can cater to their budgets and the type of experience they want."

Creating an entertaining, memorable experience for their customers is what both Martin and Cheung take pride in, and with a variety of dining options, a relaxing atmosphere and the Asian décor, which features an illuminated "weeping wall" in the entryway, a tiered fountain at the front, cherry wood and various lanterns for lighting, customers are able to receive a new, pleasant experience each time they visit.

"The restaurant is divided, with the hibachi tables on one side and the sushi bar and standard tables on the other," Martin explains. "A lot of people really enjoy the hibachi meals because our chefs entertain the diners throughout the entire meal. The restaurant is named after Osaka, Japan, the 'city of entertainment,' and our hibachi chefs are great entertainers, doing tricks and incorporating humor throughout the entire meal. They are passionate about what they do."

Osaka seats nearly 250 guests, and diners can choose to sit at hibachi tables, which are equipped with flattop grills and can accommodate anywhere from eight to 20 people, or standard tables, where they can enjoy sushi or Thai entrees. In addition, there are multiple rooms that can be reserved for parties, meetings or special occasions that can hold small (6-12 people) or large (35-40 people) groups.

With an eclectic menu of sushi, Thai and hibachi options, diners have several choices to accommodate their personal tastes. Hibachi meals include Japanese onion soup, a shrimp appetizer, a house salad with a citrus-ginger dressing, hibachi vegetables with homemade dipping sauces, noodles, steamed rice and a choice of meat or vegetables. The meat options range from filet mignon and New York strip to scallops, calamari, shrimp, chicken, lobster tails and combinations.

Thai entrees include red, green and Panang curries, as well as garlic, basil, ginger, cashew, lemongrass and mango stir-fries that can be accompanied by chicken, beef, tofu, vegetables, shrimp or seafood. Thai entrees are served with jasmine rice.

With both meat and vegetable options available, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can feel at home at Osaka, and Martin emphasizes that Osaka's menu is vegan-friendly, as well.

"We have tofu that can be flavored however a customer wants it," Martin explains, "and we can make a dish 100 percent vegan if needed.

"The great thing about Osaka, too, is that we use all fresh fruits and vegetables, our sauces are made from scratch and there is no MSG (monosodium glutamate) in our food."

While the hibachi and Thai entrees are popular at Osaka, Martin emphasizes that sushi seems to be what customers clamor for.

"Sushi is a big draw for the customers here," Martin says. "Even if someone chooses to eat at one of the hibachi tables, it's not unusual for them to order a sushi appetizer, as well."

And with specialty rolls like the Pink Lady, which consists of cream cheese, cooked shrimp, crabmeat, salmon, avocado, masago and green onion wrapped in pink soybean paper, or the Snow Mountain, with crunchy fried shrimp, cucumbers, crabmeat and mayonnaise, it comes as no surprise that Osaka's sushi menu continues to expand.

"We have 12 specialty rolls on our menu right now," Martin says, "and that will be expanding to 30 in the near future."

In addition to specialty rolls, the sushi bar also offers classic rolls (California, Philadelphia, spicy tuna and spider rolls are just some of them) and sashimi (eel, shrimp, salmon, etc.).

Japanese and Thai noodles, as well as fried rice, soups, salads and appetizers are included on Osaka's menu, and kids can choose from steak, teriyaki or hibachi chicken and salmon, shrimp, scallops or vegetables.

For families with kids, it's all about the dining experience, Martin and Cheung note. "Kids can really enjoy the entertainment from the hibachi chefs, and while we don't offer things like chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese for them, if they or anyone is unhappy with their meal, a manager is always here to fix it," Martin says.

"We're here all the time," Cheung notes.

The food and customer service at Osaka draw many customers, but another large component is Osaka's bar, which offers a wide variety of infusions, wines, champagnes, beer, martinis and sake.

"In Kansas City, I owned an infusion bar, and I offer a lot of the same infusions here," says Martin, who acts as one of the main bartenders. "My passion is bartending, and I think that there is an art to making drinks, just like there is an art to making food."

There are normally about 40 infusions available at the bar at all times, including vodka infused with vanilla, ginger-pear or lemongrass, bourbon infused with honeycomb, or tequila infused with habaneros or chipotle pineapple. The infusions are displayed in large glass jars on shelves that wrap around the bar. The bar also offers a variety of sake and wines, along with classic martinis or specialty ones, such as the Osakatini with Ketel 1 vodka, peach nectar, pineapple juice, grenadine and champagne.

"The bar brings in nearly 30 percent of our sales," Martin says, which inspired him and Cheung to remodel Osaka's bar.

"Our bar is great, but we are hoping to remodel it into a horseshoe-shaped bar, which will give us more space for infusions, as well as seating. We also want to incorporate an ice trough into it that will not only keep a customer's drink cold, but also sushi if someone wants to eat and drink at the bar. We also want to install more lights in the bar, so that the bar top and base is more illuminated."

Martin projects that the new bar will be completed sometime this month.

Four months after its opening, Osaka's parking lot continues to be packed on both weeknights and weekends, and Martin believes that excellent customer service and a passionate staff, along with a large variety of drink and dining options, are what keeps customers coming back.

"We want to be the best we can be and the best out there," Martin says. "It's all about great food, great drinks and great times with great people. We want to give customers quality service, and we want people to just have a really great time."

For more information and hours, visit www.osakaspringfield.com.


Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )

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