Okinawa — cutting edge, ‘big-city feel’
Winchester — Okinawa Hibachi Sushi & Sake Lounge provides food as diverse as its name sounds.
With designated areas for hibachi grills, a sushi bar, regular dining, a full-service bar and a private dining room for special events, the restaurant can accommodate a wide variety of tastes in one meal, said Anna Chen of Stephens City, who co-owns the restaurant with Kuper Li of Winchester.
The Asian restaurant opened on Sept. 15 at 571 Adams Drive off South Pleasant Valley Road. Its menu represents a mixture of cultures — Japanese, Chinese and Thai.
Okinawa aims for a cutting edge, “big-city feel” with a combination of modern and traditional in everything from its food to its decor, Chen said.
“Winchester is growing. We had a designer design this look for us,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be too traditional. We wanted to appeal to a younger crowd.”
In the main dining room, neon lights back long flowing wall decorations that offset darker furniture. Next door in the hibachi room, the decor is more traditional but still modern. Eight large hibachi grills banked on three sides by a wrap-around bar and chairs offer guests the opportunity for “dinner and entertainment,” she said.
“The chef is cooking in front of you, and you enjoy a delicious, fun and entertaining night,” said Chen, also the co-owner of Ginger Asian in Stephens City.
A private room for special events has two more hibachi grills, she said.
Unlike some restaurants that only serve hibachi at night, the owners of Okinawa wanted people to have that experience during the day, too, she said.
After patrons are seated, a server takes their orders and they are served a clear soup and house salad (lunch allows a choice of one), said Li, the head chef. The hibachi chef then prepares fried rice and noodles and the diners’ entrees as they watch.
With each grill table seating eight to nine people and the number of meat and vegetable options and combinations possible, the chef is kept very busy, Chen said.
Customers can order one or more meat or seafood options, including chicken, shrimp, salmon, calamari, Chilean sea bass, scallops, lobster and Angus New York steak or filet mignon. A vegetarian option is also available, with extra vegetables.
Depending on the dish, they could be flavored with soy sauce or teriyaki sauce, as well as butter, garlic, salt and pepper, Li said. House-made ginger and seafood dipping sauces in little bowls next to the plate add even more flavor.
The taste of the food is important, but diners also like the fast and fancy way the chefs prepare their dishes. “It is exciting when I make my customers happy,” Li said, adding that he especially loves to see the look on children’s faces as the meal is prepared.
One crowd-pleaser is the Onion Volcano, he said. Rings of raw onion are stacked to look like a volcano and a combination of vegetable oil and vodka is added. When the liquid is lit, flames shoot up like a volcano.
The flames jump higher than expected, so the trick should not be attempted at home.
Li said he has worked as a hibachi chef in New York and Pennsylvania restaurants for the last 10 years. He moved to Winchester last year.
Chen has helped to operate Ginger Asian since it opened six years ago. Before that, she worked as a server in several Chinese and Japanese restaurants in Roanoke County.
Sushi lovers also find it interesting to watch the sushi chefs work as they bring together a variety of colorful ingredients into artfully designed dishes, Chen said.
The Hidden Dragon Roll has a center of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cucumber wrapped in rice and seaweed and topped with spicy crabmeat, she said. “He then puts two kinds of special sauce on top and a fresh flower on the plate for design.”
For people who don’t like seaweed, the Pink Lady Roll is a good alternative, she said. The center of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado and red tobiko are wrapped in a soft soybean wrap. “When you put it in your mouth, it melts. It has great texture.”
Not all of the sushi offerings are raw, Chen said. Several rolls either have the meat inside cooked (Jumbo Lobster Roll and Yellow Submarine) or are breaded and fried after preparation (Volcano Roll and Okinawa Roll).
Also prepared at the bar is the Sashimi Plate, which features 18 pieces of fresh raw fish sliced into thin pieces and served without any seasoning, Chen said. Some of the fish on the dish are salmon, tuna, white tuna, white fluke and striped bass. It is served with dipping sauces.
If patrons want dinner without the show, a variety of dishes are designed for the regular dining room experience, Chen said.
One of the most popular dishes is Shrimp Tempura, which features jumbo shrimp dipped in a special batter and deep-fried, she said. The long shrimp are served over a bed of deep-fried vegetables, such as sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini and taro, and the dish is topped with a fried onion ring.
Other versions of the dish feature chicken, vegetables and various forms of seafood cooked tempura-style.
A similar menu option allows guests to order a teriyaki-style dish with a meat or vegetable of choice, she said. The Teriyaki Chicken is marinated overnight in a special house sauce and then pan-fried and finished by baking in the oven. “When you pan fry both sides and put it in the oven, it makes it really tender.”
The chicken is served over pan-fried onions and drizzled with teriyaki sauce, she said.
Fried Oysters is an appetizer made from fresh oysters shucked on-site, seasoned with salt, pepper and a house sauce, battered and deep fried, she said. It is served with a special oyster sauce, and the combination “tastes really fresh.”
Yaki Soba is a Japanese style of lo mein dish that is pan-fried with a house yaki soba sauce and vegetables with the option of adding a meat — beef, chicken or shrimp.
Drunken Noodles contain zucchini, basil, snow peas, napa, scallions, mushrooms, carrots and a choice of meat or seafood, Li said. The vegetables are pan-fried with noodles and a special spicy sauce that contains ingredients such as basil, oyster sauce and peanuts.
One of the Thai dishes on the menu is Pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle dish served with ground peanuts, Chen said.
The chef pan-fries bean sprouts, eggs, noodles and a choice of meat or more vegetables. “After everything is almost done, you put the sauce there.”
Okinawa Hibachi Sushi & Sake Lounge at 571 Adams Drive in Winchester is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; for dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, contact 540-542-0300 or go to okinawahibachi.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com