Sapporo Serves Diverse Asian Cuisine and Delivers for Free

Dishes are presented as beautifully as artwork at Sapporo Sushi, from the traditional rolls down to the floral accents and adornments like ginger and wasabi.

When people of a certain age think of Japanese cuisine, sake, teriyaki and tempura likely come to mind. A menu in a Japanese restaurant today, on the other hand, will almost always include sushi. Sapporo Sushi and Asian Bistro in Woodbury bridges the gap with a delightfully large menu including many varieties of sushi—“We are definitely known for our sushi,” says front of house manager Chelsea Belsham— but also soup, hot and cold appetizers, noodles and rice and house specials like stir fry, Thai curry and sweet and sour chicken. There are lunch specials, too, a twice-daily happy hour and even kid-friendly choices.

Belsham says “sushi” is actually the collective name for three, separate Japanese dishes: nigiri (often referred to as “sushi,” this is a small piece of raw fish served over a bit of sushi rice—steamed rice flavored with vinegar, sugar and other ingredients); sashimi (the raw fish itself); and cooked, fresh fish or vegetable rolls (raw or cooked ingredients wrapped with rice and seaweed). “Sushi doesn’t have to be raw,” she tells me, as we sit at a comfortable table (there are booths as well) in a well-lit dining area which accommodates nearly 100 people. A patio is also open in warmer months. Toward the back of the indoor dining area, several sushi chefs are at work at a bar where diners can sit and watch as sushi is prepared. “Our sushi chefs do a great job with presentation,” she says. The restaurant employs three sushi chefs, she says, and two additional chefs who prepare the other food on the menu.

Two of the sushi chefs were available for a bit of conversation. Cousins Tony and Jerry Lin were born in southern China and moved to New York as young children. Tony got most of his sushi training and experience in a White Plains restaurant called Haiku; Jerry moved around a bit more, working “everywhere—West Virginia, Seattle, Connecticut,” he says. They tell me the fish they use for the sushi at Sapporo is delivered every other day from Chicago. Tuna comes in quarter-fish shipments, about 15 pounds each. Salmon and other smaller fish come gutted and cleaned but whole. New sushi is made every day; nothing left over from the day before is ever served.
“We make the best sushi I’ve ever had,” says Tony. (On his time off, he admits to liking “all American food” as well, including Quizno’s for lunch.)

Jerry adds that the Woodbury Sapporo “has a lot of regulars. Customers like the delivery.” In fact, manager Belsham agrees: She’s never seen a more active take-out business and thinks it is only enhanced by Sapporo’s providing free delivery in the Woodbury area.

Dinner on a Saturday night was reasonably priced. Our party of four ate very well for about $30 per person. Selections included one of the more expensive items on the menu, sushi and sashimi for two. The presentation of the food alone was worth the price: a huge platter of the chef’s choice of 18 pieces of sashimi, 10 pieces of sushi and two sushi rolls (Sakana and crunchy) took up half the tabletop in our booth and was elegantly served with edible flowers, plant greenery and bamboo-look-alike ornaments. The sashimi arrived on an eye-catching bowl of flashing-colored crushed ice. We all enjoyed light and tasty spring rolls, a vegetarian roll with succulent mushrooms and avocado, and the Twins roll (shrimp tempura and crab wrapped in pink soy paper and draped with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado, Belsham’s favorite and now mine, too). One person in our party is not a sushi fan and he was very satisfied with a large plate of crunchy shrimp tempura, with a side of a variety of tempura-prepared vegetables as well. We were almost too full for dessert but settled on a four-way split of a luscious chocolate lava cake with a large bowl of very good vanilla ice cream on the side. Service was excellent, not too fast or slow. Both the wait staff and a maitre d’ were happy to explain menu items and identify types of fish served.

There is not a specific children’s menu, but Belsham says kids like the sesame chicken, sweet and sour chicken and fried rice. Other items of note include lemongrass and miso soup and appetizers such as Ika salad (marinated squid on a bed of lettuce), pork or Szechuan dumplings, and barbeque spareribs in a hoisin sauce. On the noodles and rice menu, old favorites like pad Thai and lo mein accompany potential new favorites like Thai basil pineapple fried rice. Sushi and sashimi can also be purchased a la carte. Green tea ice cream and fried ice cream are a few alternative dessert items. Hot green tea, jasmine green tea and coffee are available.

If you’ve eaten at a Sakana Sushi and Asian Bistro in St. Paul or Edina, you’ll find many similarities to Woodbury’s Sapporo. That’s because ownership is the same, and some of the Woodbury staff have gained experience in these other restaurants. “The owners decided the time was right for sushi in Woodbury,” says Belsham. “Business is good,” she adds. “Every week [since they opened in January] is busier than the last.”

All take-out orders can be called in or ordered online from the website, where full restaurant menus can also be found. Parking is plentiful and there are special spots to run in and out for take-away. The restaurant is easily accessed from Woodbury Drive, only about five minutes from I-94.   

What’s a Bento Box? and other great deals for lunch

One of the most popular lunch specials at Sapporo in Woodbury is their Bento Box. It’s a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal common in Japan, “like a box lunch,” Belsham says. “It’s a great deal here,” she adds. “You get the main entree plus four pieces of a California roll, rice and two vegetarian spring rolls. It comes with miso soup or a side salad.” Ten entrees are available, ranging from tempura and teriyaki to mango shrimp, Kung Pao beef, Pad Thai and more. The price? Only $11 Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

There’s also a sushi bar lunch special ($13 to $16) and the Maki Roll lunch combo (any two rolls, $9.50, any three rolls, $13.50). It’s always a tough decision, as there are 20 rolls to choose from, including asparagus, sweet potato, all varieties of fish and a California roll, too. Belsham says most lunchtime orders are from individuals, but they are happy to take larger orders (for example, for the whole office) too.

Cocktails and Twice-Daily Happy Hour

Diners at Sapporo have an entire cocktail list (compiled by Belsham herself, who has waited tables and/or bartended since she was 16) to choose from. “We have Japanese vodka and whiskeys, and lots of great sake,” she says. Particularly popular is a Japanese Cosmo, made of Japanese vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, fresh lime and sparkling Saki. Another customer favorite is the Rowdy Dragon, a Japanese take on a Manhattan, made with Hibiki Japanese whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. When we ask what’s unique about Japanese spirits, Belsham says the Hibiki whiskey they serve at Sapporo is “awesome. It’s from the Suntory distillery, the oldest distillery in Japan.”

A few “Saketini” cocktails plus sake, beer and wine choices accompany sushi, sashimi, hot appetizers and sushi rolls in Sapporo’s twice daily happy hour (4:30 to 6 p.m. and 8:30 to close). “You can get a very good price on the sushi selections in our Happy Hour,” says Belsham.