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Oh's Osaka

Some restaurants are good for a quick bite, a reliable meal, or an "I'm-too-tired-to-cook-let's-go-out" weeknight respite. Oh's Osaka in downtown Medford can be all of those, especially for sushi fans.

But the teppanyaki tables were made for celebrations, specifically those involving large parties.

Our extended family boasts no fewer than five birthdays in the space of a month, and out-of-town kin were visiting for the occasion(s). When my daughter-in-law mentioned that Oh's was one of her favorite places and she'd love to visit for her birthday, we had a plan.

We arrived at the appointed time and were promptly seated at one of the teppanyaki tables — a u-shaped counter with a gleaming griddle at the open end.

Teppanyaki is a Japanese style of communal cooking. The word derives from teppan, meaning iron grill, and yaki, meaning fried or broiled.

In Japanese homes, teppanyaki is cooked on a small tabletop griddle, and family members and guests participate in the grilling. In restaurants, a chef prepares the food, punctuating the performance with spinning spatulas and pyrotechnics.

The granddaddy of teppanyaki restaurants in the West is Benihana, the upscale chain that popularized the cuisine in major cities around the world.

Our dining experience began with a waitress taking our orders and delivering drinks. Teppanyaki dinners at Oh's range from $11.35 for stir-fried vegetables to the Osaka Imperial Dinner for Two at $63.95 — lobster, filet mignon, chicken, scallops and shrimp.

Selections in between include tofu, teriyaki salmon, halibut, Korean bulgogi beef, shrimp, scallops, New York steak and filet mignon.

Dinners include salad or miso soup, vegetables and fried rice. The combination Empress and Imperial dinners add fried ice cream for dessert.

My wife and I opted for the Empress dinner for two ($44.95), which is the Imperial minus the lobster, and features green tea ice cream for dessert. Others in our party tried halibut ($16.25) — a thick steak grilled to perfection with a tangy sauce — New York steak (16.95), and scallops ($16.75). One of us chose to order from the extensive sushi menu instead.

Our chef arrived pushing a cart laden with the ingredients for what we had ordered, and began by frying an enormous bowlful of rice, to which he added fresh egg, onions, mushrooms and seasoning.

Be warned: The portions are huge. Unless you are entertaining a group of NFL linemen, you will have leftovers to take home. Those with smaller appetites might consider ordering one entree for two people and paying the extra plate charge of $6.95.

The cooking is done with flair, accompanied by twirling spatulas, spinning eggs and alcohol set alight.

The emphasis on fun is clearly a draw at Oh's — at least three parties the evening we visited were celebrating birthdays.

The show is family-friendly as well. The chef's antics at a nearby family's table clearly kept the children from growing bored. The children's menu offers chicken ($9.75), shrimp ($10.75) and New York steak ($11.75).

Our dinners were cooked to perfection — the halibut moist and flavorful, the scallops plump, the steak cooked to the doneness we specified. Our sushi lover pronounced her tuna roll delightful.

We brought our own bottle of wine and paid the corkage fee, and ordered a carafe of sake as well.

Oh's has a full bar as well as a selection of beer and wine.

Purists looking for authentic Japanese cuisine might be disappointed. While the sushi is creditable, the teppanyaki is definitely geared toward American palates. But it is fresh, tasty and plentiful. And it's a great way to add a bit of flair to a birthday dinner out.

—Gary E. Nelson