Sama Zama: 425 Westport Rd

 Posted by at 12:45 am
Jan 242012
 

South Overland Park’s One-Bite Japanese Grill has re-made itself and set up shop on Westport road as a classy but casual joint specializing in unusual small plates, noodles and okonomi yaki, among other things. The previous tenant, Matsu Sushi, had not aged well by the time it closed a couple years back. Happily, the space (half of what Matusu was) has been completely stripped down and redesigned in a tastful, minimal style. The east wall is exposed brick, the ceiling is painted tin and a small, orange counter sits near where the sushi bar used to be. Attractive dark wood tables complement the modern chairs. The dining room is almost exclusively 4-tops and 2-tops. One seating area by the front window could perhaps seat 8.

This clean, hip decor is accentuated by the soft but noticable strains of a Sirius dance music station. It feels like they are trying a little too hard in this aspect, but at least there were no lyrics to distract me from the business of stuffing my face.

I was initially confused by their choice to name the place “Sama Zama” because it sounds gimmicky. But a quick Google search informs me that the term means “varied” in Japanese, which I admit is a perfectly acceptable and appropriate description of the menu. It takes a while to figure out what to order. There are many choices in various configurations: lunch specials, entree portions, appetizers, soups, noodles, desserts, sides and nearly all of them were unfamiliar to me. So it takes time to read and process what is being offered. My dining companion and I each ordered a lunch special which includes two dumplings and a salad with a smaller portion of the main entree. A good selection of regular entrees are available as lunch specials: ramen (spicy or regular), udon, teriyaki, and the aforementioned okonomi yaki in a number of permutations.

The raw, marinated octopus appetizer I ordered exhibited wonderful flavor: savory soy punched up with wasabe. It was presented in a small bowl and garnished with strips of nori. I found myself wanting a different preparation once I took a few bites, not because it was bad but because I grew weary of the consistency of the straight-up octopus chunks without rice or more vegetable to provide a balance of texture. Raw octopus is pretty slimy and doesn’t look very appetizing to the Western eye so all you whities out there should excercise caution if you aren’t feeling a little adventurous.

Takowasa

While we ordered the spicy ramen and pork okonomi yaki as lunch specials, we were mistakenly brought full-size portions due to an error by our server who was otherwise quite good. I honestly didn’t realize what had happened until halfway through the meal. The price difference was minimal so I didn’t make a stink and somewhat enjoyed the huge portions we received. Seeing the specials being delivered to other tables, I noticed the portions were much more reasonable and appropriate for lunch.

The okonomi yaki is a crazy thing to behold: a pancake topped with meat and vegetables topped with a fried egg.

Okonomi yaki

You can choose to further adorn the dish with bonito flakes or little fried wonton strips. I recommend the former. I was somewhat disappointed that the flavors weren’t punched up very high for something so divinely wacky in concept. The pancake portion was exceedingly gummy, leading me to believe that it had been undercooked. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be? I think it is worth getting if you have never eaten it, but I’ll be ordering differently next time.

The broth of the spicy ramen, while exhibiting plenty of heat, was similarly lacking depth of flavor. Maybe I’m just a Guy Fieri-esque Phillistine who needs every dish laden with bacon and smoke and spice.

Spicy ramen

The noodles themselves were perfectly cooked and accompanied by delicious, tender slices of pork shoulder. This is the perfect dish for frenzied chopstick slurping.

Both entrees apparently came with little fried spring rolls which, while good, were pretty typical of most better Asian restaurants.

spring rolls

I’m not accustomed to posting about restaurants when they have been open less than a week but I decided to share my thoughts here nonetheless. Because I hadn’t planned on posting, I can’t recall the specific prices of the things I ordered. I think the ramen was $13 and the okonomi yaki about ten bucks. I want to say the lunch specials are about $10 as well. I hope Sama Zama does a good business and I suspect I’ll be back to eat again sooner rather than later. While my experience wasn’t perfect, the menu has a lot to offer and there really isn’t anything like it in town.

The Sama Zama website is still under development so the place to go for info right now is their Facebook page. They are open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Sama Zama on Urbanspoon<


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Anna’s Oven: 1809 W. 39th St

 Posted by at 6:26 am
Jan 192012
 

Anna’s Oven, a strange combo of tasteful cafe, comfort food emporium and charitable endeavor may have good food but I’ll probably never find out. It’s not the menu or the concept that rubs me the wrong way, but the execution is simply substandard due to an apparent lack of good management and oversight.

Rear exterior

The space has been attractively renovated and is barely recognizable from its days as Matchstick BBQ, a short-lived but fairly solid breakfast and smoked meat joint on 39th Street West. Given the name and the interior vibe, I would assume that Anna’s Oven specialized in fancy salads, vegetarian fare and overpriced soups, but the menu trends toward updated versions of American classics: meatloaf, roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and desserts like cobbler and bownies.

Interior

Menu Board

They open up at 11am and I strolled in about 11:40, eager to try the meatloaf, which Mr. Ferruzza enjoyed on one of his visits. Alas, they were out of meatloaf, which I assume meant that it hadn’t been made yet, given that they had recently opened and there was only one table occupied. The woman at the counter also warned me that they did not have chicken pot pie, which had been prominently advertised on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk. So I opted for chicken and noodles ($7) since it is a relative rarity on local menus and they advertise that the noodles are house-made.

The woman from the counter ran the front of the house by herself on my visit and spent a lot of time talking up the charitable aspect of Anna’s Oven with the few customers that strolled in. The business apparently gives a percentage of sales to the Friends of St. Anne, an organization that supports the work of a girls school in Kenya. Being a curmudgeonly old cynic I don’t pay much mind to this sort of thing. After all, what an odd choice of charity. It may have personal importance to the investors of Anna’s Oven, but I have no assurance that a religious school in Africa is more worthy of funds than Harvester’s, Big Brothers/Sisters, Amnesty International or the Heifer Project. Let’s be clear: I think charitable business ventures are an excellent idea, but this one seems too specific. I don’t want to research the charity before spending my money there. And it certainly doesn’t give them a pass to be a crappy restaurant.

Anyhow all this chatting about St. Anne’s really cut into the time the server was spending with other customers as more people slowly drifted in. She was supposed to bring out a bottled beverage to my table that took longer than the 25 seconds it should have taken. When she wasn’t with customers she was mincing garlic on a cutting board behind the counter and ignoring everyone. Basically you can forget about getting any attention once you leave the counter.

We must have waited 30 minutes for our food, so long that it almost became funny. While we waited I witnessed the wrong order being delivered to another table in the joint, and the wrong order given to a person waiting for takeout. Food was returned to the kitchen and fixed or remade apparently. This didn’t bode well. At least I had a bottle of Boulevard Wheat to keep me company.

Imagine my lack of surprise when the chicken and noodles arrived and the waitress explained that these were “not the usual noodles” because “they didn’t leave us any from last night.” What I received was a bowl of store-bought rotini with bits of chicken distributed throughout and maybe a 1/4 cup of watery broth hiding underneath. It was certainly not “yummy thick broth.” There was not even any garnish. Wanna see it?

Chicken and Noodles

This should really be obvious, but if you advertise house-made noodles in your dish and intend to substitute dried pasta, you should inform the diner first.

Where's the broth?

The dish was completely substandard and highly disappointing. It reminded me of something you make at home when you’re drunk and only have pasta and a leftover chicken carcass. I was annoyed, which you can probably discern from the general tone of this post. But there was no manager to speak to, just an unavailable server and a guy in the kitchen.

Menu | Anna's Oven 2012-01-17 22-37-27

But hey the salad was good.

Chef Salad

That little bowl in the background is the standard order of regular mac and cheese. Yep, the same store-bought noodles with a thin, slightly sour cheese sauce, and no garnish. This food is literally beige, would it kill them to put a parsley sprig somewhere? The mac didn’t taste all that bad, but was severely underseasoned and didn’t exhibit the best qualities of homestyle mac and cheese: cheesiness, salt. And where was the buttered bread crumb topping as promised on the menu? It certainly didn’t make me want to order the $68 party portion.

What am I getting at other than to complain? For starters, it’s clear that Anna’s Oven suffers from a lack of proper oversight and training. Why were there no processes in place to ensure that meatloaf, pot pie and homemade noodles are available every day when they open? Why did the cook and/or server not feel obliged to inform me that they were serving me something different than was advertised? Why was this place so goddamn slow? Other than providing a forum to feel good about charitable endeavors, are the owners invested in the success of Anna’s Oven? Does this place have a manager? After being there so long, my lunch felt like an obligation, like being at a timeshare presentation or worse, a bad community theater production against my will.

Not long ago, I found a hair in a dish that I ordered from a local restaurant. For many people such an occurrence is a dealbreaker, but after noticing it, I simply removed the hair and proceeded to eat my lunch. The restaurant is a place that I have enjoyed multiple times without incident and I trust them and know that they take pride in their food. But when that trust has yet to be developed, when owners’ work ethic is undetermined and their purpose unclear, missteps turn into grave errors.

Almost certainly, I caught Anna’s Oven on an especially bad day. I’m reasonable, I normally would go back to try more dishes and give them a chance to shine before writing this up. After all plenty of people in town seem to like it. But given this one experience I just can’t justify returning. It may not be fair, but there are too many other deserving lunch spots to try. That being said, I would love to hear others’ experiences at Anna’s Oven, mostly to see if I’m insane for being so turned off.

Anna's Oven on Urbanspoon

Edokko: 8615 Hauser Ct. Lenexa

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Apr 252010
 

The restaurant critics gave a nice shout-out to Edokko on KCUR’s Walt Bodine show a few weeks ago. I was glad this place was on their radar because I had eaten there back in March and found it to serve among the best sushi in town.

Edokko Sushi

Edokko is situated in a small strip mall on Hauser Ct. just off 87th street in Lenexa. It sits next door to KC Grill & Kabob which itself offers a very fine Middle Eastern lunch buffet. Inside the entrance is a little lobby with some large bamboo and a delightful fish pond. The little speaker on top issues a barely audible greeting when you walk in or out.

Edokko

Edokko

Sushi is a great option for lunchers venturing out on their own. You can always count on the presence of a sushi bar where you can join other solo diners. The bar also offers the opportunity to watch the sushi chef practice his craft; some chefs (the gentleman at Jun’s comes to mind) are veritably chatty fellows who are more than happy to discuss the finer points of sushi-making.

Edokko is very tastefully decorated, anchored by an 18-seat granite sushi bar with stone accents.
Sushi bar

A series of elevated wooden booths run along two walls above the central dining area. The booths are sleek and modern with appealing earth-toned cushions.

Booths

Like most better sushi places, prices run a little higher than the average lunch excursion. The sushi special runs $10.95 and includes 6 pieces, a California roll and miso soup.

Sushi lunch

Miso soup

This is definitely a crowd-pleasing special as there are no “weird” choices, and a California roll is about as safe as you can get. But this was great sushi, absolutely creamy, fresh tasting and delightful. The nigiri were on the large side as well.

I went back recently and wanted to check out something else from their lunch menu (PDF). I opted for Yaki Udon, a dish of thick noodles mixed with chicken, snap peas, egg, lettuce, carrots, mushrooms and topped with sesame seeds and slivers of dried seaweed. Delicious. I strongly suspect that they make they own udon noodles but I haven’t eaten them a lot. I just have a hard time believing that a dried noodle could taste this tender and fresh. I asked the server but she had no idea how they were prepared, and indeed seemed clueless as to what the cooks did back there. That’s some serious division of labor.

Yaki Udon

Nonetheless, I appreciated the otherwise great service both at a booth and at the sushi bar during each visit. When I visited shortly after they opened, the owner chatted with me briefly, asking how I heard about Edokko, whether I liked the food and encouraging me to come back. She seemed like a nice lady and I felt good about patronizing the place. You will too, assuming you want to eat in Lenexa.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure they have karaoke.

Edokko Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dec 272007
 

UPDATE: THE NOODLE SHOP HAS CLOSED AS OF 6/16/2008. READ MORE ABOUT IT.

This new-ish neighborhood spot is nestled in a small string of shops just west of Rockhill road. I actually think the block-long strip mall is one of the early JC Nichols projects, but I could be mixing it up with someplace else. Anyhow, the location is great, mostly because this residential area between main and troost really needs some more interesting places to eat. Noodle Shop is just far enough away from UMKC that it will likely attract more professorial types who live in the area south of the campus, rather than students. But it might be a nice change of pace from Einstein’s, Planet sub and Kin Lin which are the sad options for the struggling student.

I was really pleased to see that this is a noodle shop in the purely asian style. I despise those places that specialize in all things noodles–spaghetti, asian, mac and cheese–it’s just silly. Thankfully this place is a real restaurant, run by people who know what they are doing, and do it well. The menu is short and simple: Pickles and noodles. The pickles come in a variety of permutations, from cucumber pickles, to traditional kim chee, to daikon radish. They all have a distinctive appeal and are clearly homemade.

As for noodles, you can concoct your own assemblage from the list of ingredients or choose a specialty. The menus are essentially checklists, you just check off what you want, hand it to the server and they put it together for you. The best part of the whole experience is sitting at the counter and watching the guys assemble the meals. The two giant vats in which they cook noodles are always in action, and the chef in constantly running around slicing and dicing various ingredients that seem exotic but probably aren’t.

As far as I can tell, Noodle Shop does not have a grill or an oven. I think all the cooked ingredients are steamed, boiled, poached or similarly prepared. This is somewhat of a downer since grilled meats go so well with noodle dishes. But the pot roast style beef I had was delicious, almost the equal of the comparable noodle place Blue Koi. The pork and chicken have consistencies that may not be immediately pleasing to the palate, but if you just roll with it, you won;t be disappointed.

The chalk board behind the counter lists a dizzying array of condiments available for your dining pleasure. Everything from sriracha to yellow mustard to fish sauce to stuff I’ve never heard of are represented. There must be 20 condiments. Wow.

The best part of the whole experience is the laid-back and friendly atmosphere. The staff is extremely helpful and efficient. They are more than willing to explain various dishes, and food comes out quite quickly. The space is small and tasteful, certainly not over-pretentious. The clientele is the usual assortment of Brookside lame-o’s. As the review over at Give in to Temptation put it “the place was peppered with 30-somethings that looked like they had money.” I concur. I was the 30-something without money sitting at the counter.

Anyhow, this formerly useless strip mall is now a place where I will actually go from time to time. It’s the sort of spot that probably needs some help getting off the ground and staying viable, but if they get a liquor license any time soon, I can help them out with that.