By Marianne E. Weaver | Photos by Rob Jinks
Tucked in the Manassas Bull Run Plaza between Rainbow Apparel and Blue Chip Barber, Akasaka Japanese Steakhouse has built a loyal following of guests from western Prince William County.
“We were looking for a place after we moved out here. We Googled ‘Japanese steakhouse,’ and Akasaka came up in the listing,” said Gainesville resident Alison McCorkle, who has been going back ever since. “Japanese steakhouses usually have the same things with some nuances, so it really comes down to the flavor. Akasaka uses a good mixture of the sauces in their cooking to accent the taste of the food but not oversaturate it. They also serve noodles with their meals, which was a nice treat since my kids love noodles.”
That review is exactly what Akasaka owner/sushi chef Shang Song was hoping to hear when he moved his Akasaka Sushi restaurant from Alexandria to Manassas in 2006. The Manassas Akasaka is the result of a seed planted decades ago when Song was a server and manager at the Akasaka restaurant in the Hyatt Regency in Korea, explained Song’s son-in-law, Kwan Chun, who acted as interpreter as Song ping-ponged between the interview and the sushi bar.
Chun said his father-in-law developed a love for Japanese cuisine at the Hyatt before immigrating to the United States in 1982 where he began studying to become a sushi chef, a title he has held for more than 20 years.
Song built a reputation for excellent sushi at his tiny restaurant, also named Akasaka, on Van Dorn St. in Alexandria when he opened it in 1994. In addition to traditional sushi rolls, the menu featured numerous specialty rolls, including the Akasaka Roll (lettuce, radish sprouts, tobiko, masago, shrimp, cucumber and Japanese mayo), Chewbacca Roll (shrimp tempura, spicy crab meat, fish egg, cucumber, fried yam, masago and special sauce) and the Crunch Roll (tuna, salmon or yellow tail with crispy tempura crumb, tobiko, cucumber, scallion and Japanese mayo).
Within a year, Song made his mark when the Washingtonian named Akasaka as one of the top most affordable places to eat in the Alexandria region. Chun added that the restaurant remained on that list for the next eight years. But, he said, his father-in-law had a bigger dream: he wanted to add hibachi grills.
But the tiny restaurant wasn’t big enough to accommodate the 10-seat grills. “So we sold the restaurant and found something bigger,” Chun said.
The new location offers enough space for eight 10-seat hibachi grills as well as the sushi bar and a section for additional seating.
The hibachi menu features a wide range of choices – chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, scallops, mahi-mahi, filet mignon, lobster and vegetable – ranging in price from $16.95 to $36.95. Hibachi combinations range from $22.95 for shrimp and chicken to $39.95 for the “Imperial Dinner,” which includes lobster, jumbo shrimp and filet mignon.
“I like the hibachi scallops and the regular steak,” Chun said. “We use a high-grade steak, and I’m a steak guy.”
Chun said the hibachi chefs come to Akasaka with experience. In fact, he said, they won’t hire a chef who has less than five years of hibachi experience.
“Most chefs have been here at least eight years,” he said. “We do not have big turnover. And those who did leave have come back.”
For many guests, the food might be the main draw, but the entertainment provided by the hibachi chefs makes the experience.
“My family has enjoyed Akasaka Japanese Steakhouse for many years,” said Eileen Imorde of Bristow. “We often go for special occasions. We especially love the Yum Yum Sauce. The chefs are great, and we always enjoy the fun of watching our food get cooked right in front of us.”
According to Chun, many customers often come to celebrate birthdays. And the Akasaka staff celebrate along with them.
“The birthdays are very loud,” he said. “Everyone gets involved— we all dance and sing and bring out balloons.”
They also take pictures, which are dated and hung on the wall by the entrance.
Although the birthday celebrations are memorable and the hibachi performances are showstoppers, Chun said the sushi specialties are still the most popular items on the menu and the reason customers come back. And, he said, his father-in-law is the driving force behind the business. “He has been a sushi chef for 20 years,” Chun said.
“He checks every piece of fish. Nothing is ever frozen. And he is here Monday through Sunday; he works every day.”
The menu features all of the original specialty rolls his father-in-law made famous in Alexandria, he said, but he’s also added some new rolls, including two of the most popular specials: Tokyo Mama (shrimp tempura, spicy crab, tempura crumb on top with special sauce) and the Kabuki Roll (shrimp tempura, crab meat, avocado, cucumber, fish egg, tempura crumb, Japanese mayo with special sauce).
“Akasaka was the first place my daughter tried salmon rolls,” said McCorkle. “To understand the significance of that, one would have to know that my daughter is almost vegetarian, and it is very hard to get her to try new things.”
Akasaka is located at 10788 Sudley Manor Dr., Manassas. For more information, visit akasakajs.com.
Marianne Weaver (email@example.com) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.