“It’s good. I promise.”
Not always the most comforting words to hear when you are about to dive into an unknown, off-the-menu raw fish creation [later to be known as “Ocean Drink”]. After one piece of sushi, though, lined with jalapenos, mangos, raw yellowtail and fish eggs, the promise is fulfilled and it is good – very good.
At Yummy Steak House, 1121 Grafton St., sushi head chef and co-owner Ken Zhang rolls out an endless list of creative, whimsical and sophisticated dishes suited for novice and expert sushi enthusiasts alike.
Zhang, who recently took home 2nd place in the judges’ choice category of Worcester’s Best Chef Competition, focuses the seriousness of his skill with every choice of color and injection of flavor into his dishes.
“I sit here and make dishes for myself to taste and test. I am always looking for something new. Something different,” says Zhang while he prepares the delicate slices of yellowtail. “Everything I serve is fresh. I get deliveries six times a week.”
Partnered with Jacky Chen, a hibachi chef drawing in the attention of hibachi devotees and Worcester foodies with his charisma, Zhang is determined to concoct the city’s best Japanese cuisine duo to migrate from China – yes, China.
“I came from China 11 years ago and do not plan to go back, unless it is to visit,” said Chen while Zhang nods along.
Chen and Zhang, like many others, work hard every day to ensure they do not return to their homeland to endure unemployment and harsh living conditions.
Instead, the pair represents a classic tale of immigrants seeking the American Dream.
“It is hard to find work where we are from. There are no places to work and earn a good living. It is extremely difficult over there to open your own business, too,” Zhang said. “We are here to succeed.”
With zero professional training in culinary background, this Japanese-cuisine duo started from the bottom.
“I came to the United States with my wife [before she was his wife] and landed in New York,” Chen said. “We thought that would be the best place to start and make money to create a better life.
“After three years of learning how to work in a Japanese restaurant and how to cook hibachi, we moved to Quincy. I continued to work for other restaurants and learn as much as possible. In 2011, I became the co-owner of Sakura in Attleboro.
“After years of learning, I knew it was time to have my own restaurant.”
The downfall to co-owning Sakura with two other partners was the co-owning part. Chen wanted more managerial control, but knowing that was impossible he reached out to a friend who connected him with Zhang.
“I met Jacky in Quincy. He was a friend of a friend and we were introduced. I was learning how to be a sushi chef through working at various sushi places and when the time was right, we partnered and opened up Yummy Steak House,” Zhang said. “I have always wanted to do more and be more.”
Yummy Steak House, which opened Nov. 1 with five employees, was a concept Zhang and Chen shared: a great selection of food and a welcoming atmosphere.
The restaurant shares a somewhat out-of-the-way strip mall with Paesano Pizzeria at the end of Grafton Street near the Sunderland Road intersection. It has seen somewhat sluggish business during the week, the owners admit, but has had solid success on weekends.
Inspired by their work over the last 11 years, and regardless of their quirky location, Zhang and Chen want to incorporate the sophistication and elegance of Japanese cuisine.
“I know we are new to Worcester with Yummy Steak House, but we want to stay here,” Zhang said. “Being the 2nd place winner of Worcester’s Iron Chef Competition, I proved a lot to myself. It was a lot of work being part of the competition, but it was great for the restaurant and for me.
“I’m coming back next year for the number one slot.”
Without a doubt, the Chen and Zhang duo, with their eyes on the prize, are ready to transform Woo residents into full-blown hibachi-eating, sushi-loving, Japanese cuisine experts one dish at a time.
Yummy Steak House
1121 Grafton St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday; noon-9:30 p.m., Sunday
Other Local Business Spotlights that might interest you:
Hidden Gem: El Patron authentic Mexican, spicing up the Canal District
LBS: Basil n’ Spice an inspiring story of perseverance — and a foodie favorite
LBS: Viriditas, new downtown a distinctly different kind of downtown shop
This article was originally published in the Feb. 7, 2016 edition of the Sun.
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