Food Three-and-a-half stars*
Service Three-and-a-half stars*
Ambience Three-and-a-half stars*
*Out of four stars
Address: 2460 Canyon Blvd Suite #1, Boulder
Contact: 720-398-9115, osakasrestaurant.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday
Fare: Traditional and fusion Japanese cuisine, with some gluten-free, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan choices.
Noise Level: Moderate, which is consistent with the vibe, which can range from the mellow to the more festive.
Boulder's recently opened Osaka's offers up an intriguing mix of traditional Japanese fare as well as an original fusion take mixing Asian recipes with the all-American burger. This creation is called the Osaka burger, and the end result is both unusual, and more importantly, enjoyable.
The key element of the Osaka burger is what's known as okonomiyaki, a savory pancake. In Osaka, Japan, this dish relies on shredded cabbage as the cornerstone ingredient. Osaka's, the Boulder restaurant, offers okonomiyaki in this traditional style, as well as one showcasing kale and boasting a gluten-free pedigree. In the case of the burger on offer here, the okonomiyaki takes the place of the bun.
Fillings for this restaurant's namesake burger range from a vegetarian mushroom mix to ones filled with familiar Japanese courses, including teriyaki chicken and sukiyaki beef. Others include noodles in the filling, a reasonably common addition in Japan, and there's even one dubbed the American, stuffed with a fried egg and bacon, because why not?
Besides the unique burger, okonomiyaki is also available in a traditional preparation. The rest of the far-reaching menu includes starters such as agedashi tofu and edamame, as well as such entrees as grilled meat and vegetable combos, and onigiri rice balls.
Service is both engagingly friendly and efficient. Interestingly enough, each table has a rectangular electronic doohickey (to use the technical term) that a diner can position to summon a server. Once placed, the device signals a wearable on a staff member's wrist and someone promptly shows up at the table.
Starters were top-notch, particularly the $13 vegetable tempura. The vegetables were fine quality, including onion rings, plump mushroom, squash, asparagus and lotus root. But even better, the batter was exactly as it should be, marvelously crisp and thin. Of course, such a delicate coating requires quick consumption to prevent the tempura from getting soggy, but we happily polished these veggies off in short order.
Similar fried goodness was apparent in the $10 karaage, or Japanese-style boneless fried chicken presented in bite-sized morsels. Subtly perfumed with such elements as soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sake, this was a most addictive snack and was as good as any version available locally.
For a main course, I opted for one of the yakimono, or grilled, specialties prepared on a teppan griddle. This was the $25 yakiniku and vegetables, consisting of tender bites of beef along with nicely crisp-tender vegetables matching those that came with the tempura. The otherwise fine meat appeared to have been heavily marinated, with a noticeable salty soy sauce tone; a more delicate touch with the seasonings would have made this dish near perfect.
One dining companion opted for the $14 vegetarian mushroom burger, packed in the kale okonomiyaki bun. Unfortunately, the kitchen had run out of kale pancakes, and so she had to content herself with the traditional cabbage version. The mushrooms were earthy and substantial, comparable in heft to an actual beef burger, but would have also benefited from less salt. Otherwise, the pancake was a winning alternative to a typical bun, and the sides of miso soup and perfectly executed French fries were as good as can be.
Another friend chose the traditional presentation of the okonomiyaki, served flat and topped with a thin layer of pork belly for $16. This pancake was garnished with drizzles of Japanese mayo and layers of dried bonito fish flakes. The overall impression was one of appealing heartiness, with a compelling mix of salty and sweet tones. What was perhaps most unique about this course was that the dish's heat caused the bonito flakes to undulate like a living creature, which mesmerized all of us.
Desserts tend towards the unique here, and we were ambivalent about the $5 black sesame mochi ice cream submerged in shochu, a cousin of sake. Unlike an affogato, consisting of espresso and gelato, this sweet's elements are likely best enjoyed separately. The astringency of the spirit did not pair well with the creaminess of the mochi. Far more successful was the made-to-order $8 mango waffle, composed of a pleasantly fluffy base, topped with plenty of whipped cream and sweet fruit.
Osaka's is a welcome addition to the Boulder dining scene given its innovative menu, featuring Japanese fare seldom seen locally. Preparation here is generally strong, and service is engaging in a most comfortable setting. For fans of Japanese food seeking something different, this is a worthwhile destination.