December 2011

Sake House: Where Japanese Cuisine Meets the American palate

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Lan Chen, manager at Bluffton’s Sake House Japanese Sushi/Seafood & Steak, giggled at the question: what’s the best thing on the menu? Like a mother declining to choose a favorite amongst her children, Chen answered diplomatically. “It depends. You have sushi people and hibachi people.” And both are entitled to special treatment at Sake House. “We do Sushi Night (Thursdays) and Hibachi Night (Sundays), and we have Happy Hour every day. Something’s going on every day.”

The Bluffton location is the second of two in the area, both owned and operated by Chen and her husband and sister-in-law. “My husband (Jackie) and his sister opened the one in Beaufort about three years ago,” she said, “and I came in after I married him.” Now, with Jackie—a trained hibachi chef—running the back of the house and Lan out front, the Bluffton Sake House is ready to celebrate one year of successful operations in January.

If you’re already a sushi fan, Sushi Night is your big chance to really splurge, because almost everything on the menu is half-price. “It’s a select menu,” said Chen, “but all of our rolls are there.” For newbies, here’s a great chance to get your feet wet. It’s not all raw fish, if that’s what’s been holding you back, so come on in and let Chen and the staff ease you in.

“I’ll ask the customer, ‘Do you eat raw?’” she said. “Sometimes if they’re just starting sushi, they don’t want to eat anything raw, so I’ll say, ‘oh, if you don’t eat raw, come over here and have something cooked.’ We don’t want our sushi choices to be narrow, only for the people who eat raw. So anybody can have a sushi!”

Hibachi Night also features a select menu, but most of the regular hibachi menu is offered at 25 percent off the regular price. “You don’t have some of the combination plates, but everything else is in there. That’s for Sundays,” Chen said, while emphasizing the importance that Sake House places on freshness, particularly the fish. “My fish is all very fresh. My tuna, my salmon, we have it coming in every other day. Fish has to be fresh.” She also added that Sake House’s hibachi room with 13 grills is unusually large when compared to others. “We have more seats so there’s less waiting!”

Entering Sake House for the first time is somewhat of a surprising experience. While the name implies the more stereotypical demure atmosphere that we tend to associate with a Japanese restaurant, the reality stands in stark contrast. The space is a very spacious, contemporary open floor plan with a large common area and decorative fountain distinguishing the bright, animated sushi bar from the more subdued tone of the hibachi room. You notice the fountain immediately and feel a sense of movement and energy that creates a lively dining experience. “We want to appeal to American tastes (in terms of design), so we made it very American, but with some Japanese accents,” said Chen pointing to some wall hangings and other subtle décor elements. “It’s refreshing, and kind of fancy.”

Happy Hour is 4-7 p.m. every day, and there’s a full bar, not just sake as the restaurant’s name might imply. Is there a lot of call for sake at the bar? Chen, visibly amused by that question as well, again took the “there are two kinds of people” approach. “It depends. Some have had it before and they like it. But for a lot of people, it’s their first time, so I’ll let them try it and they’ll go ‘ooooooh I don’t like that!’” she said wrinkling her nose to illustrate. “They just need to get used to it. It usually takes three or four times before they get used to it.” With over 20 sake and plum wine selections, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to get used to it, or you can just stick to your usual. The bar is stocked with a range of imported and domestic beers, call and well liquors, and an impressive list of reds, whites and bubblies from California, Oregon, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.

If you’ve yet to give Sake House a try, you have no excuse now that you know about Hibachi Night and Sushi Night. You can’t beat the value of half-off sushi and 25 percent off the hibachi menu, especially when the food lives up to the full price.

Sake House Japanese Sushi/Seafood & Steak is located at 1017 Fording Island Road, F105 in Bluffton. For more information, call (843) 706-9222.

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