At Sake Japanese Steakhouse, it’s about the show, but the food is really good, too. It’s in the old Filet 7 West on Troy-Schenectady Road, and I’m guessing Sake is serving more steak now than the old steakhouse ever did. On a Saturday night, the place was packed.
Sake opened last October and is affiliated with the excellent Shanghai Grill, in Newton Plaza in Loudonville.
The bar is the same, and about a half dozen teppan, or cooking tables, with six chairs each take up the east side of the building. The tables are paired up, with the working spaces and cavernous stainless steel hoods between.
The separate rear dining room has regular dining tables and is probably a lot quieter. The atmosphere is lively; parties that night included families celebrating birthdays and a group of boisterous bridesmaids.
Sake Japanese Steakhouse
WHERE: 611 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham. 785-7215, www.sakealbany.com
WHEN: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner: 3-10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 3-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
HOW MUCH: $77.50, with one lemonade, tax and tip.
MORE INFO: Wheelchair accessible. Children’s menu. Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Reservations required for cooking tables. Call early for weekend seating.
A hibachi, or teppanyaki, dinner includes soup, salad, a shrimp appetizer, vegetables, noodles and rice. And, of course, your entree and the show. From where we sat, we saw performances at two nearby tables so we were entertained pretty much the whole time.
Pam and I were seated at a teppan table waiting for the rest of the seats to fill up. We put in our orders, a signature roll and swordfish dinner for Pam ($20) and a combo meal of filet mignon and shrimp ($26) for me. Sake moves things along. I thought we would have to wait for the rest of the table to fill up, but the server started bringing out our food.
Soup and salad
We started with clear soup, a delicious broth with fine slices of sweet green onion and paper-thin slices of fresh mushroom. Sake gets points for their soup. Instead of one-dimensional fish-flavored miso soup, this crystal-clear broth had flavor without saltiness.
Sake does a better than average salad, too. It’s still iceberg lettuce with pink tomato but the creamy ginger dressing had a nice kick and the lettuce was cut into bite-sized pieces.
Pam’s 7 West roll arrived, carefully arranged on a glass plate with two sauces. It was filled with crawfish and avocado, with spicy tuna and snow crab, topped with tobiko (flying fish roe, which added a bit of pop, said Pam) and wasabi. Very nice, she said, and then proceeded to inhale it.
The balance of our table arrived, a family celebrating what looked to be about a 12th birthday. The older kids looked bored. Our server caught everyone up to us with soups and salads. The teppanyaki chef rolled up with his cart of supplies; he was slight and soft-spoken. I think I saw one of the boys yawn.
Every Japanese steakhouse I’ve been to has the same show; the only variable is the enthusiasm of the chef, and we had a good one. Plop! went a dozen condiment dishes onto the griddle, where he speedily ladled out ginger and mustard sauces without spilling a drop. Well, one drop. But we were impressed.
He started the entertainment by squirting a puddle of oil in the center of the grill, with a long trail leading to the side of the table. Then he lit the remotest end with his lighter and we watched as the flames scudded along the grill, like a cartoon fuse, to ignite the pool of oil, which produced satisfying flames that leapt three feet high. The boys leaned away from the table, their mouths in Os. And we were off.
First, the sliced vegetables were slid onto the hot grill. From his stash of squirt bottles, the chef seasoned and then flipped them, slicing zucchini spears into bite-sized chunks that were catapulted into the mouths of the willing. I declined. The birthday boy, who caught one on the first try, was having a great time. We clapped.
Next, the volcano. “Whoever invented that was a genius,” said Pam, as the chef deconstructed a thick slice of white onion and layered it from large ring to small. He squirted it full of oil, and applied the lighter. Whoosh. The boys almost swooned.
At this point the chef brought out an indelicate plastic model of a boy that squirts water from you-know-where. It put out the volcano, and the chef christened the younger customers with it, who thought that was hysterical, too. He had the sense to leave us alone.
Also, we passed up on the all-you-can-drink sake that’s squirted into your mouth while the crowd counts off the seconds. Our table demurred; a diner at a neighboring table got up to 22. His wife got to 25.
Twirling his spatula around his finger, the chef tossed an egg into the air and bounced it a few times before splitting it open on the side of the spatula. Turning it into an omelet, he pushed it back and forth, and made a little joke. “Egg roll!” The boys almost fell off their chairs laughing. He added a few more eggs, and prepared it for fried rice. A mound of rice was heated and seasoned, I think, with hoisin, soy sauce and minced garlic. And then we started to eat.
We each got a portion of the rice while the vegetables got attention and cold cooked noodles were dumped onto the grill. More squirts, more shakes from the metal can along with rhythmic whacks. The vegetables were portioned out next; delicious and perfectly cooked broccoli, onion, mushrooms, crimped carrot slices and zucchini. A few minutes later the seasoned noodles were served, my favorite part of the meal. They were so delicious that I gave up on the chopsticks to dig into them.
Expertly done entrees
Now the entrees: steaks, a filet mignon, a gorgeous, thick slice of swordfish, two boneless chicken breasts, and heaps of shrimp all dumped on the blistering grill at the same time. There were squirts and shakes and a squeeze of lemon and before long, the shrimp was done. Let me say here that the chef made it look easy, but it wasn’t, cooking the steaks to medium rare and nailing the swordfish so it was done but juicy.
Now there was lemony shrimp served all around, and it was outstanding. These plump guys were seasoned like mad, but were still sweet and every morsel had been coaxed from their shells. Delicious.
The meat was seasoned and sliced. News flash: they use a lot of butter. The rice got it, the veggies got it, and the meat got it. More shrimp was piled on my plate, to be followed by medium-rare bits of tender filet mignon, and it was all good. Pam’s swordfish was moist, white, and fresh. By this point we were stuffed, but happy.
The chef was mopping up the grill and we were boxing up the leftovers. I took home most of the steak, shrimp and rice, which I had the next day, when I really had a chance to look at it. The meat was especially tender and exactly medium rare, and the shrimp well-seasoned and handsome.
We were way too full to think about dessert, I am afraid to say, although the red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting looked tempting. The tab for dinner, with a lemonade, tax and tip, came to $77.50.
If you haven’t had a teppanyaki meal, Sake is a good place for it. If you have, be sure to bring along someone who hasn’t. Half the fun is watching someone see it for the first time.