Sama Zama, a new twist on owner Erika Koike’s now closed One Bite Grill in Overland Park, recently opened on Westport’s restaurant row. It’s on the same stretch of Westport Road that houses the Boot, Westport Cafe, Jerusalem Cafe and the Beer Kitchen, among others. Sama Zama is very clean, sleek and modern, and with white furniture and orange swirls on one wall, the only reminder that you are in Westport comes from an exposed brick wall.
Sama Zama means variety in Japanese, so you can expect some non-traditional offerings, rather than the typical Hibachi grill or sushi set-up. The emphasis here is on tapas and Okonomi-yaki, a Japanese-style grilled pizza. Okonomi-yaki resembles a doughy pancake that is topped with a fried egg, an assortment of toppings, and sweet and creamy sauces that Erika bottles and sells in the store and at grocery stores around town.
The menu has a large array of starters, many of which are fried. My favorite entreé was the ebi chili; tofu, shrimp and zucchini, stir-fried in a spicy tomato sauce. It sounded Italian on the menu, but tasting it you will find it to be distinctly Japanese. The asparagus in a garlic infused sauce was luscious–spooned over rice, it would be a wonderful meal. In fact,next time I would order a side of rice to make sure we don’t miss a drop of either sauce.
Udon noodles can be ordered with vegetables, shrimp, beef or chicken. Though properly toothsome, I thought they were a bit bland. The spicy ramen does have a kick. Big slices of fatty pork floated above the noodles, giving the broth an added dimension.
I really enjoyed our experience, and look forward to sampling the teriyaki bowl, gyoza, garlic green beans and even the fried rice, which I suspect will be a cut above what one finds in just about every Chinese restaurant. I do worry about the staying power of Sama Zama, because it’s never crowded when I walk by or when I’ve eaten there. But it deserves some attention and love–the food is fresh and enjoyable, the service efficient and friendly, and the owner is truly interested in delivering a quality experience to her clientele. She’s trying a new concept in Kansas City and we should embrace her efforts.