A new restaurant in Minot is offering customers a unique Oriental dining experience.
Sakura Sushi & Steak House opened Wednesday at 1425-24th Ave. SW, in the location near Dakota Square Mall formerly occupied by Happy Panda. Nian Chou, assistant manager at Sakura, said the international restaurant chain takes its name from a Japanese country flower, otherwise known as a cherry blossom.
"It's symbolic of Japan," Chou said.
All the ingredients used in the meals, such as fish and other seafood, are fresh, not frozen, and are shipped from Minneapolis and Chicago. Chou said they have to ship from Chicago because some of the ingredients are difficult to get.
The meals Sakura serves, which range from soups and salads to sushi and sashimi to hibachi dinner entrees, are complex in presentation as well as taste. The level of skill needed to make the meals requires experienced chefs, which Sakura has.
"The chefs, they all have over 20 years of experience and are very professional, especially the sushi chefs," Chou said.
She noted two Sakura special rolls, the rainbow roll and red dragon roll, are very popular. The rainbow roll has crab, cucumber and avocado inside with tuna, salmon, white fish and shrimp draped on the outside, all topped with tobiko. The red dragon roll consists of eel and cucumber inside with spicy tuna and crunches on the top.
Mike Liao is the manager of Sakura and a part-owner. Before joining Sakura, he was a college teacher, YMCA consultant, owned a travel agency and had a part-time job at the Los Angeles Chinese Daily News as a reporter and translator.
Liao said because they incur higher transportation costs by shipping everything fresh, their menu tends to be a few dollars higher than some restaurants. However, he also said their portions tend to be a little bigger, too.
Liao said one of Sakura's specialties is the hibachi, or teppanyaki, grills, which are open grilling surfaces surrounded by tables. Sakura has eight of these spread throughout the dining area. This allows customers to watch the chefs cook their meal right in front of them.
"Most of the restaurant has no open kitchen to cook in front of you, only the hibachi grill," Liao said. "That's a very important thing and a Japanese steak house specialty."
In addition to cooking, the chefs also make sure to entertain their customers with an assortment of tricks involving fire, juggling utensils and even precisely delivering food through the air from their spatula to a customer's mouth.
Along with vegetables, chicken and steak, the hibachi grills also feature seafood such as salmon, shrimp, lobster and calamari.
Another unique eating experience Sakura brings to Minot is the sushi bar, where sushi chefs make complex creations with raw fish and other ingredients right before a customer's eyes. Liao said they have eight kinds of tuna and six kinds of salmon.
Liao noted the chefs are Japanese, so if a customer speaks Japanese it won't be a problem.
Sakura can handle groups of any size. Parties of five or less can walk in and will be seated as soon as possible, while parties of six or more are asked to call ahead and make a reservation to ensure they will be seated quickly once they arrive. Sakura also does birthday parties, which includes a picture, birthday cake and balloon animals for children. Liao said they can host up to 20 people for a private hibachi grill party.
There is also a full bar that serves mixed drinks and other types of alcohol for customers who would like a drink with their meal. Liao said their bartender is a professional from Seattle who is very good at her job.
Liao noted the majority of employees at Sakura all graduated from college, including the chefs.
Liao said Minot's booming population and Minot Air Force Base made it a very desirable location for Sakura. Serving that growing population to the highest standards possible is his number one concern, which is why he puts so much emphasis on the quality of the food, the cleanliness of the store, and the care his staff treats customers with.
"You can come to dine and enjoy the Asian people, the warm heart and the family-style (atmosphere), enjoy your food and your own (hibachi grill) kitchen," Liao said.