When a new restaurant joins north Johnson City’s competition for the diner’s dollar, the trick is to make as loud a noise and as big a splash as possible. If the diners aren’t beating a path to your door right from the start, you’ll be playing catch-up or worse. However, it is not unheard of for a canny restaurateur to slide into the shark pool undetected, choose a quiet corner to set up shop, and let word of mouth (plus some judicious advertising) build his clientele.
I spotted the Hana Japanese Steakhouse ad in these pages recently. Though of few words and barely larger than a business card, the ad piqued my interest enough to warrant a gathering of the dine-around bunch.
Located just off the corner of North Roan Street and Sunset Drive, Hana Japanese Steakhouse has convenient access and plenty of parking for their guests. Walking in, you’ll be surprised by the size of the place, and mesmerized by the swirling multi-colored bubble wall that separates the lobby from the dining area.
Hana’s main push is teppan-style Japanese cookery, though they also have a competent kitchen for non-teppan entrees. After being seated (comfortably) round a teppan grill by our server, James, we each worked on our meal choices for the evening.
The Dieter chose the Hibachi Chicken teppan ($13.95), substituting noodles for the rice, while the Retiree decided that the Filet Mignon & Shrimp ($20.95) was more to her taste. The Carnivore and my dining partner each ordered the Shrimp teppan meal ($16.95). I wanted to see what the rest of the staff would be doing while our teppan chef was performing out front, so I went with the Pork Katsu bento box, ($15).
Each of the teppan meals came with a clear chicken broth for sipping. My bento box had miso soup with fresh spinach leaves and tofu pieces. We all had a salad of fresh field greens topped with Hana’s house dressing, a tasty mix of shrimp sauce and fresh-grated ginger.
As we were enjoying the last bite of greenery and swallow of soup, our chef, August, arrived bringing supper and the floor show. There followed some impressive chef-inspired pyrotechnics that saw (among others) a humble onion changed into a goblet of fire complete with fresh-ground black pepper sparks.
My bento box arrived midway through Scene 2, so we all had something to munch on while the rest of the show was in progress.
In his final flurry of activity, August finished preparing our meals while keeping us entertained by flipping fresh broccoli florets up for us diners to catch in our mouth (or in my case, eye.)
As he was cleaning the grill, the rest of us were busy getting bites and tastes all around to see how each other’s choices stacked up. The Retiree’s chicken was succulent, being marinated in Hana’s teriyaki-based marinade beforehand. The filet was good, though the soy and teriyaki sauce added during cooking made it a bit saltier than I was used to.
The Carnivore and my dining partner were well-pleased wit their succulent (and sizable) shrimp, quite flavorful when grilled with a mixture of teriyaki, rice wine and fresh lemon. The vegetable combo that accompanied the teppan meal matched fresh onions with carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and broccoli, all grilled and served over a flavorful bed of (basmati?) rice.
The Dieter made a very good choice matching her chicken with an order of Hana’s noodles, I got some and was pleased with the combination of tastes.
The bento box in from of me did not disappoint. I could taste every one of the elements that made up the exquisite California Roll, while the tempura shrimp and veggies were excellent. My new favorite is thin–sliced sweet potato tempura, though Hana’s broccoli tempura is pretty good, too.
My choice of Pork Katsu, a battered and fried pork cutlet served with katsu sauce and steamed rice, was good if a bit anticlimactic, given the other contents of the bento box. Think I’ll try the Salmon or Scallop Teriyaki box (each $17) or maybe the Beef Negimaki ($17) next time.
Hana Japanese Steakhouse also does lunch portions for all their meals (including bento boxes) and pays particular attention to pleasing young diners. As we were leaving, I had occasion to talk with maitre’d Brandi, who introduced me to the restaurant’s manager, Jenny. Both were open, friendly and typically low-key; Brandi pleased with the public’s generally favorable response to Hana’s grand opening and Jenny quietly optimistic about their continued success.
North Johnson City’s restaurant scene has a new player, and the sharks in the pool are looking worried.
Hana Japanese Steakhouse
112 Sunset Drive
Mon-Thu 11 a.m – 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m.–10 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Sat noon – 10:30 p.m.
Sun noon – 9:30 p.m.
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted