Okawa Steak House and Sushi doesn't just sling good food; they give you a show on top of it. The restaurant on Third Street is modeled after the Benihana-style restaurants, which are in turn based on the Teppenyaki style of Japanese cuisine involving fireballs exploding, onion volcanoes, food flying toward your mouth and the chef spinning cooking implements faster than you might think is humanly possible.
In other hibachi restaurants I've experienced, watching the master chefs cook the food right at your table is a blast, but the food is usually underwhelming. Dry steak, room-temp sushi and hard vegetables often abound. Okawa, on the other hand, didn't stumble. As fun as the fireballs and flying rice were, the food really was the centerpiece of the meal.
My dining companion and I started with the Shumai, a steamed shrimp dumpling. Each was bite-sized and fresh, with the dumplings melting in my mouth. The shrimp was light, sweet and soft, without any of the rough texture that comes from overcooking.
We then tried Okawa's miso soup and a salad with a tangy carrot ginger dressing. So far, all the appetizers were delicious, which got us excited for the sushi. Sushi is usually low on the list of priorities for a hibachi joint, so our expectations were firmly in check.
We started with the bamboo rolls (shrimp tempura, eel and cream cheese, topped with avocado and eel sauce). The avocado was fresh and divine, so when combined with the crispy, buttery shrimp, the whipped cream cheese and the unagi, the complexity of the rolls was incredible. I don't know why Bend of all places has so many excellent options for sushi, but it's a good problem to have.
Within a minute of finishing the bamboo rolls, our chef came to our table and started preparing the hibachi dishes. As he put on the show, the chef kept a close eye on our steak, salmon, veggies and fried rice so as not to over or undercook anything.
The fried rice was perfect, with the fluffy pieces of egg adding excellent flavor to the dish. Fried rice is about as basic as it gets, but the spices and sauces they used to brown it made for a recipe unlike any I've had in years. The veggies were a generous mix of broccoli, mushrooms, onions, carrots and other delightful bits. The moments that they marinated in the sauce generated by the steak and fish allowed the vegetables to pick up several different flavors. I'm not a big fan of onions or mushrooms, but this time I couldn't stop eating them.
The steak was a dead-on medium rare, lightly pink but not bloody. The cut of meat was fresh and generous and paired well with the fried rice and vegetables. The salmon had a honey marinade slathered all over its flaky deliciousness and melted away as soon as it touched the tongue.
Even though we were stuffed to the absolute maximum, the food was so good (and for the quality control of this review), we ordered one more set of rolls. The "hot fancy rolls" (seared pepper salmon, avocado and spicy tuna with tempura flakes and spicy mayo on top) were too good to even deal with. The salmon and tuna made a great pair, creating a balance to savor.
Okawa is a fun place to bring the kids to let them marvel at the open flames and flying rice—but flavor isn't sacrificed for spectacle. I always have fun when I eat, but this was something special.
Okawa Steak House and Sushi
1180 SE Third St., Bend
Call 541-640-8056 for reservations