A Standout SteakhouseMay 01, 2023 ● By Lisa Sciortino
By Lisa Sciortino
There is no shortage of Japanese restaurants in Frisco, and that is a very good thing for fans of the cuisine’s staple dishes including sushi, hibachi and ramen (this writer included).
These and other Japanese steakhouse standards are on the menu — and are being skillfully prepared and beautifully plated — at Nikugen Steak & Ramen, which is situated in a neighborhood shopping center at Preston and Lebanon Roads. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a recent meal at this contemporary-styled eatery was one of the best I’ve had in a long while.
It is worth noting that unlike some other local Japanese steakhouses, Nikugen does not have hibachi-style tables in its dining room, at which chefs wielding really big knives crack jokes while tossing shrimp in the air and lighting petite towers of onion slices afire. However, the top-notch service and outstanding food here more than makes up for the lack of a floorshow.
A friend and I visited Nikugen for dinner early on a weeknight and were immediately seated at a cozy corner table adjacent to the kitchen.
Isabella, our server, arrived quickly to take our beverage order. In the mood for sake, we quizzed her about Nikugen’s selection of hot and cold options, including the premium Ginjo sake that is produced via a “cooler fermentation” process that results in a “silky smooth,” dry and delicate flavor (according to the menu). Following a few queries about our favorite flavor profiles, she suggested that we share a bottle of the chilled, organic Nama sake (the most popular among diners here, she assured). Its crisp, slightly fruity tones made for a refreshing start to the meal.
There are several fried selections on Nikugen’s appetizer menu, including such Japanese steakhouse standards as Shrimp Tempura and Gyoza (beef dumplings that are also available grilled) as well as Nikugen Fries, which are Japanese-style French fries served with a “special sauce” and dried bonito (smoked, fermented fish fillets).
However, we were intrigued by the steamed Gyu Buns. This pair of fluffy, chewy buns resemble small pancakes that are folded in half to cradle a generous portion of grilled beef that is glazed with a delicately sweet sauce. The thinly sliced meat rests atop a bed of crunchy cabbage slivers and leaf lettuce that is a wonderful juxtaposition to the soft buns. This simple appetizer impresses with its big flavors and textures.
The Shrimp Tempura Roll is as much a feast for the eyes as the palate. Rice, crunchy sliced cucumber and tasty crab meat fill the tall, seaweed-wrapped pieces that are served artfully fanned on a long plate (adorned with a rose made of shaved ginger and garnished with a trio of crisp cucumber rounds). The pieces are on the larger side and proved a bit tricky to balance between chopsticks (as well as too sizeable to devour gracefully in a single bite) but were so fresh and flavorful that they were more than worth the effort.
Service throughout our meal was incredibly prompt – so much so that all of our food arrived nearly simultaneously. We took the opportunity to leisurely make our way through each tempting dish.
My friend ordered the Black Angus New York Strip Steak hibachi entrée. The 10-ounce steak, which arrived diced in large chunks, was impossibly tender and perfectly seasoned with Nikugen’s house-made teriyaki sauce, garlic butter and soy sauce. It was accompanied by a petite bowl of a tasty orange sauce (we didn’t ask, but assumed it was Yum Yum Sauce) as well as a bowl of Miso Soup that had the requisite plump tofu squares, scallions and seaweed bits bobbing in its piping-hot, salty (but not overly so) broth.
Also on the side was a medley of still-crispy sauteed vegetables (bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms among them) and a sizeable serving of vegetable-speckled fried noodles that glistened with sauce — all of which was the sort of delicious, traditional fare one expects at a Japanese steakhouse despite having been cooked in the kitchen rather than before us on a ripping-hot hibachi table.
Despite the warm evening temperatures, I had my heart set on slurping a bowl of hot, soothing ramen. A fan of spicy soups, I asked Isabella whether Nikugen’s aptly named Spicy Yakiniku Ramen would be a good choice. Much to my surprise, she suggested that I instead opt for the dish’s non-spicy version (but offered to bring a bit of the spice blend to add separately and kick things up a few notches, as desired).
What was served is best described as a small vat of soup. Swimming in its steaming-hot soy and vegetable-based broth were thin slices of grilled beef, a sliced hard-boiled egg, long, curly noodles, black mushrooms and bean sprouts, among other veggies. Isabella was correct: The spice blend proved to be a powerful addition that took aim and landed a direct hit on the back of my throat. Its heat was only partially tempered by alternating between bites of the black sesame seed-sprinkled, diced carrot-infused fried rice that I ordered on the side. Served in a big red bowl, the ramen is remarkable.
As stuffed as we were by meal’s end, there was no way I was leaving without enjoying some green tea ice cream – also regularly featured on most Japanese steakhouse menus. If you are unfamiliar with this slightly sweet treat’s decidedly earthy flavor, know that some consider it to be an acquired taste. Nevertheless, it’s one that I absolutely adore and Nikugen’s double-scoop offering did not disappoint. Same goes for the super smooth, creamy Yuzu Cheesecake. The pair of petite slices were liberally drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream and maraschino cherries. It was just the right amount of decadence to complete our extremely filling meal.
In a city abundant with restaurants capable of satisfying one’s noodle soup, sushi and hibachi cravings, Nikugen Steak & Ramen most certainly is a standout.
Frisco STYLE Magazine dining reviews are not scheduled with or paid for by the featured restaurant. All reviews are completed for the purpose of helping readers learn about and enjoy local dining options. Is there an area restaurant that you’d like us to review? Email us at [email protected].
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.