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Out of a possible five

Japanese spot caters to all tastes

Even though they are seemingly popping up all over the place, Japanese restaurants can still be intimidating to some.

And if you are part of this group, you may want to test your fears at Sapporo on Lima Road.

This seafood and steak restaurant, which opened in January, is the second of its kind with its sister store in Indianapolis. It offers traditional Japanese entrées, sushi and teppanyaki grill offerings, which, for some reason, are called “hibachi” dishes. Hibachi grills use charcoal; the flat, metal Japanese steakhouse cookers are correctly called teppanyaki grills.

Regardless, a couple of appetizers I had that had nothing to do with the grills were tasty and not at all intimidating.

The potato skins could have easily been found at any continental restaurant. These thick skins were topped with a tasty crab salad that had a sweet flavor sort of like ketchup and cheese, and were baked until golden brown.

The Spicy Crab and Cucumber Salad was nearly as good with thin strips of cucumber and stringy sweet crab in a zesty vinegar-spiked dressing. The serving size seemed small because it left me wanting more, but it may just have been because it was so good.

I had to try the hamachi Collar because I had not seen it elsewhere. The collar of this fatty, bony, yellowtail fish was roasted until the skin was crisp, seasoned with a little salt and topped with diced green onion. I did not want to put this tender, moist hunk of fish down until I picked each of its tiny bones clean. It was great.

The complimentary starters at Sapporo were not great.

The iceberg salad with ginger dressing had little of the kick I expect from a ginger dressing and was more like Thousand Island. The onion soup consisted of just crispy fried onion rings in a salty broth that had no flavor of its own. The creamy, white miso soup was OK even if it was scant on tofu.

I would opt for a sushi roll as a starter if I was not having it as a main course as all of the ones I had were good.

The Hoosier, recommended by both of my Sapporo’s servers, had tuna, avocado and a creamy, spicy mayonnaise-type sauce. It was beautifully rolled in black and white sesame seeds, which gave it a little crunch and some added toasty flavor. The Volcano, baked and served warm, had the same spicy sauce along with shrimp and crab. It was simple and tasty.

The eel roll was even simpler – just eel and cucumber – but I loved it. The eel was seasoned with the usual dark, rich sauce and the freshness of the cucumber accentuated it perfectly. The only roll I did not care for was the Spicy & Creamy Spider, which had deep-fried soft-shell crab, avocado and cucumber along with the spicy sauce, which was applied too heavily making it mushy and masking the flavor of the crab.

The only other knock was that the sushi rolls were a bit small.

The sizes of the teppanyaki dishes were just fine, but there were some things missing.

For one, having fried rice with your meal – which is really one of the best things about going to a teppanyaki grill – required an up-charge. The place was also stingy with another grill staple, bean sprouts.

The Hibachi Steak was a better option that the filet mignon based on the price. Both were cooked and seasoned perfectly, tender and delicious.

The lobster I had with my filet was also cooked to perfection, and I loved how a big pat of butter was placed on top of it right before it was placed on my plate.

The lobster and the scallops I tried were, however, drenched in another sauce that should have been tempered because neither really needed it at all.

Sapporo had something that most traditional Japanese restaurants don’t – great desserts. Cheesecake Factory items are available and you can get them tempura-fried. The restaurant does the same with its fried ice cream. The tempura worked great with the ice cream with its crispy exterior and soft, cake-like underside. With some chocolate syrup adding sweetness to the savory crust, it was fabulous.

My chocolate mousse cheesecake was also quite tasty (how could it not be?), but could have used a few more minutes in the fryer as the center was still frozen.

There were several service issues at Sapporo:

•The hot tea came in bags with a cup of hot water instead of the standard mini-pot. That cup was cold by the time my food was ready, and I was never offered a refill.

•The shrimp appetizers, which come gratis with grill entrées, were served with the mains instead of before.

•My party and another had already received our appetizers when a new party was seated at our grill. This meant we had to wait 15 minutes after the appetizers were gone for our main courses while the newbies perused menus and made their choices. It also happened on a slow night when there were several empty grills where these new diners could have been seated.

But the worst mistake nearly made me leave the building.

In the middle of cooking the meals, the teppanyaki chef turned his head and coughed into his hand instead of his sleeve and just kept on cooking without washing that hand. He was nearly finished and did not touch any of the food, but it was still gross.

Those teppanyaki grills take up a third of Sapporo’s spacious new structure. There is a sushi bar and regular bars and regular tables throughout the rest of the building. With its high ceilings and rather nondescript décor, the restaurant seems a bit vacant. It is clean and new, but really lacks any kind of atmosphere.

I was also puzzled by the background music, which were ’50s and ’60s standards from artists such as Dean Martin and Sinatra. It was the perfect music for an Italian restaurant, but just seemed odd for a Japanese eatery.

But I guess it sort of made sense because Sapporo is not what I would call a traditional Japanese eatery. The menu looks the part, but the dishes were timid in flavor.

And that makes it perfect if you are intimidated by exotic cuisine and would rather try what I would call Japanese-lite.

Restaurant: Sapporo

Address: 6150 Lima Road

Phone: 739-6064

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Japanese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Hamachi collar ($8.99), crab and cucumber salad ($5.99), potato skins ($6.99), Hoosier roll ($6.25), Volcano roll ($8.99), eel roll ($6.25), spider roll ($9.99), scallops ($21.94), hibachi steak ($17.95), filet and lobster ($31.94), ice cream ($6.95), cheesecake ($6.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.