Okonomiyaki, a specialty of Tamura's home town of Osaka, Japan, is a fluffy cross between a pancake and an omelet — eggier than the former and firmer than the latter. It can also be compared to a potato pancake, only with shredded cabbage (and sometimes grated yam) as the primary vegetable bound together with egg and flour. If you haven't heard of the dish, that's because it's not exactly common in Front Range restaurants. Tamura says there are two main reasons for this. Okonomiyaki is a little trickier to pronounce and remember than words like sushi or ramen, two staples of Japanese cuisine that dominate the conversation here in the U.S. — and the style of restaurants that serve sushi and ramen aren't as well equipped to serve okonomiyaki, which is often a grill-it-yourself dish in Japan.
At Osaka's, which held several days of test runs with a limited menu before opening to the public on November 7, traditional Japanese okonomiyaki has been miniaturized so that it can take the place of sandwich buns. So instead of the standard Frisbee-sized (and somewhat loose) pancake topped with all manner of ingredients and sauces, you get a compact, handheld (more or less; the paper bag helps) sandwich filled with a variety of proteins and vegetables. To meet Boulderites halfway, he also developed a version of his okonomiyaki made with kale instead of cabbage. Guests at Osaka's can choose from seven original (with cabbage) and five kale burgers, with fillings that include teriyaki chicken, fried cod, sukiyaki beef and sliced pork, along with a variety of sauces in sweet, spicy and creamy flavors. A meatless version is available stuffed with marinated mushrooms, and the "American" comes loaded with bacon and a fried egg. Despite the name, these aren't burgers in the strict sense of the word, so there's no ground-beef patty among the options.
Another aspect of Osaka's customer service relies on technology. Each table comes with a rectangular block that you might mistake for a miniature salt shaker but is actually a wireless device connected to wristbands worn by the staff. Turn the block so that a specific icon and word ("water," "service," "order," etc.) is on top, and servers will be instantly alerted to your request through their wristbands. If you're eating lunch by yourself, the device (called a Noodoe Swift) seems a little gimmicky, but it comes in handy when you're with a group eating and drinking dinner over a couple of hours.
Osaka's is starting out slow to keep the focus on the unfamiliar okonomiyaki, but it will be adding menu items over the coming weeks. Slider-sized versions of the Osaka burger will soon be available in sets of three, and larger, more traditional okonomiyaki will be served in cast-iron skillets. Other menu sections include agemono (fried dishes) and yakimono (grilled dishes); if you want to supplement your Osaka burger, you can choose from rose-shaped shumai dumplings, grilled rice balls called yaki onigiri, and tidy boxes filled with layers of rice and lacquered eel labeled una jyu.
No, okonomiyaki and omotenashi aren't familiar words in Colorado, but they both represent things you can now experience firsthand. With repeat trips to Osaka's, you can expand your knowledge of Japanese language and culture one bite at a time.
Osaka's is located at 2460 Canyon Boulevard and is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. every day but Sunday. Call 720-398-9115 for reservations, or visit osakasrestaurant.com for more information.