There are three good reasons to visit Sama Zama if you haven’t yet.
One, saying “Sama Zama” makes you sound cool when your friends are trying to figure out where to eat.
Two, major league baseball players eat there.
Three, you can learn all kinds of new Japanese words from the menu. For example:
Toriaezu otsumami (starters). Yakimono/itamemono (grilled and pan-fried dishes). Okonomi yaki (savory pancake). Kanmi (desserts). Gohan (rice). Chahan (fried rice). Men-rui (noodles). Fun!
It’s also a chance to try traditional Japanese foods not widely known in the Midwest.
“We’re the only Japanese restaurant in Kansas City that has no hibachi, no sushi,” says Erika Koike, the young Japanese owner. Koike has no formal culinary training but has trained the chefs to make the kind of traditional home-style Japanese foods that made her previous restaurant, One Bite Japanese Grill in Overland Park, a hit with professional baseball teams.
“We’ve had the Royals in here, the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago Cubs,” she says.
The favorite dish of Japanese baseball players is the okonomi yaki, a hockey-puck-shaped pancake made from shredded green cabbage, scallions and pickled ginger in a flour-based batter. The cooked “pancake” is then topped with a fried egg and your choice of chicken, pork, mushroom, shrimp or seafood. The cheese bakudan yaki has cheese, bacon and corn mixed into the batter and should not be missed.
Sama Zama’s three desserts will win over even non-dessert fans, with their fruit-forward focus and restrained use of sugar. The raspberry maki is a Japanese-American hybrid: a cheesecake-filled spring roll atop raspberry sauce. Kakigori tastes as delicate as its description (strawberry syrup, sweet cream and “fresh snow”). And the green tea and mango ice creams are as good as they get.
Sama Zama is at 425 Westport Road and on Facebook.