Three Delicious Japanese Dining Options in One Location
By Jennifer Marshall
Fans of the popular upscale North Scottsdale Japanese restaurant, Sapporo, will be thrilled to know that it’s back—now operating under the name Kasai Asian Grill—and it’s better than ever.
Mike Russello and his business partner Patrick King opened Sapporo back in 2001 as a teppanyaki and sushi restaurant. They spent five million dollars designing and building a beautiful dining destination that’s nearly 10,000 square feet between the inside and the outside spaces. Sapporo enjoyed a very successful run until 2009 when the prevailing economic forces spelled the end of its journey. Co-owners Russello and King sold Sapporo that year, and they went their separate ways.
“The entity that purchased Sapporo from us in 2009 was a big restaurant company,” Russello said, “but they didn’t own any restaurants in Arizona, much less any Asian ones. They were going to do something with Sapporo, but they decided against it. Sales were on the decline, and it was kind of neglected and not at all where it was when we had owned it.”
In September of 2018, Russello and King teamed up yet again when they bought back the restaurant they’d founded. Their mission was to create a more spectacular version of what Sapporo had been in its heyday. They worked hard to revamp the restaurant for its unveiling and grand opening, and in November 2018, Kasai Asian Grill opened its doors for dinner service. Remaining true to its Japanese roots, Kasai means ‘fire’ in Japanese.
Russello describes Kasai, with its teppanyaki tables, sushi bar and Asian fusion entrees, as being “three restaurants in one, accompanied by a happening full-service bar with doors that open up to the outside patio.”
Kasai features 10 teppanyaki tables with so many yummy choices. Customers can build their ideal teppanyaki dinner from the following available meat/protein choices: Filet Mignon, New York Strip, Sumo Filet Mignon, Sumo New York Strip, Chicken Breast, Wagyu Filet Mignon (Wagyu is Japanese beef.), Calamari Steak, Halibut, which is a seasonal item, Salmon, Scallops, Shrimp, Sea Bass, Soy-Glazed Tofu and Lobster. They can also pair two of these offerings to truly customize their teppanyaki dining experience. Or, they can dine like royalty when they order “Imperials,” which consist of “Filet Mignon or New York Strip with Lobster and one of the following: Calamari Steak, Chicken, Salmon, Scallops, Shrimp or Sea Bass.”
Each Teppanyaki Meal is served with a shrimp starter, mushroom soup, house salad, fried rice, and fresh seasonal vegetables.
“Teppanyaki tables are a lot of fun,” Russello said. “With your chef cooking your meal right in front of you, it’s like a show and dinner together. It’s unique, and since tables fit 8-14 people, it’s the perfect option for celebrating events like birthdays and anniversaries.”
For those who are in the mood for authentic Japanese sushi, Kasai has you covered. With lots of homemade rolls, they offer a full sushi menu with sashimi.
If sushi isn’t your thing, Kasai has 25 traditional dining tables serving up many delectable Asian fusion entrees. Their “Lamb Chops,” which are “single cut Australian Chops in a Thai curry coconut glaze, served with grilled asparagus and roasted red pepper garlic mashed potatoes,” are, according to Russello, “some of the best you’ll ever have.”
Other house favorites include: “Asian Pesto Chilean Seabass,” “Grilled Teriyaki Salmon,” “Charred Diver Scallops,” “Macadamia Nut Mahi Mahi,” “Ginger Cilantro Halibut” and “Wagyu Filet Mignon.” Kasai even features a Japanese version of fried chicken with their “Chicken Karaage.”
For diners who are interested in sampling a little bit of many items, Kasai serves a wide selection of sharable appetizers and small plates. Russello likens these dishes to Spanish tapas.
“Many customers order some shared appetizers and sushi,” Russello said, “like Japanese tapas. I’m actually an eater like that, too, because I like to try lots of different items.”
Back in the day, Sapporo was well-known for its Happy Hour. To attract the former crowds they used to enjoy and to meet their patrons’ high expectations, Kasai has introduced some extraordinary Happy Hour specials. Currently, they’re running 50 percent off all drinks, 25 percent off all appetizers and presenting some excellent sushi choices during their Happy Hour, which is available seven days a week from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“At the end of the day, we’re foodies,” Russello said, “and our food has to be right because it’s our number one priority. We spend much time and energy sourcing the freshest ingredients possible, and we take our time with our food as we put a lot of effort into making it the best.”
As Russello and King worked to realize their dream of opening Kasai, they were fortunate to be able to bring back onboard their original Head Chef from Sapporo who’d worked with them for 10 years. As they focused on staffing their new restaurant, they were also lucky to be able to rehire some former managers and other staff members. They were delighted to have been able to “bring the team back together again.”
For those who are searching for catering services for their next event, Kasai is the perfect choice whether it’s an on-site or off-site festivity.
“We’ll bring sushi chefs and teppanyaki chefs to people if that’s what they want for a party,” Russello said, “along with the respective sushi bar and the teppanyaki grill.”
Within the restaurant, their private dining room will accommodate 24 people sitting at teppanyaki tables. In the future, they’re enclosing one of their patios, and once the job is completed, they’ll have a second larger on-property private dining space with three new teppanyaki tables that will fit up to 40 people.
While Kasai provides takeout and participates with UberEats, they love for people to dine with them, and savor what makes them so special.
“You can come in four or five times and get an entirely different experience,” Russello said. “Sit at the teppanyaki tables and get that experience. Sit at the sushi bar and get another experience. Sit at a normal table and still another experience. Come relax at the bar or out on the patio, and it’s another distinctive experience.”
Relaxation and comfort are the qualities Russello and King want every one of their guests to feel while in the company of their restaurant. They shaped Kasai not to be a particularly fancy place but one reminiscent of fun times with friends and family.
And looking forward, this restaurant duo hopes to establish five more Kasai Asian Grills within the next five years. Currently, they’re actively searching for a location in the City of Phoenix since they don’t have any restaurants with teppanyaki tables.
“When you think about it,” Russello said, “a restaurant isn’t an overly complicated enterprise. You have food, service, atmosphere and good value, and if you can ace all of those four criteria, then I think you have something special. That’s what we strive for here, and because we give customers good value, that’s what makes us a great restaurant.”
Join Kasai for Mother’s Day Brunch.