MORRIS COUNTY — Have a craving for Asian food, but the family cannot agree on what kind? Someone wants Chinese, another wants Thai, and then someone else is really in the mood for Sushi. Dilemma solved!
Joining the eclectic Parsippany culinary scene this past November 29, despite all the unpredictable and challenging issues facing small businesses, was a very welcomed new addition to our community, Ai Sakae Asian Cuisine. Ai Sakae, an attractive, classy-looking, glass-fronted building nestled in the Tabor Road Plaza, a small strip mall on Tabor Road, also known as Route 53. Ai Sakae’s cordial manager, Lynnsie, who was kind enough to spend time answering my many questions, explained that the name comes from “Ai,” a Chinese word for love, and “Sakae” a Japanese word for prosperity. And despite its Morris Plains address, this great new venue is in fact situated in the Township of Parsippany.
This family-owned and operated eatery, owned by Ken and Cindy Chen, is not an Asian fusion restaurant, nor is it strictly a sushi restaurant, even though their sushi and sashimi selections are excellent. Ai Sakae’s menu interestingly consists of a wide variety of authentic selections and modern interpretations of classic dishes from China, Japan, and Thailand. Not to forget a wide selection of sushi and sashimi choices artfully prepared and presented by the restaurant’s extraordinarily talented and skilled sushi chef, Ai Sakae’s owner Ken.
Ken Chen’s culinary journey includes many years in the restaurant industry, sharpening his skills and mastering the different food preparation styles, cooking techniques, and various nuances common to the three diverse cultures to ensure authentic dishes, before he and his wife, Cindy, opened their former restaurant, Mintea in Cedar Knolls, an Asian eatery utilizing the same multi-Asian menu concept that we now find in Ai Sakae.
Ai Sakae is small in size, with only 10 or 12 tables and a standalone sushi bar with several seats, but it gives the impression of being welcoming, cozy, comfortably spacious, and airy once inside. Newly renovated (formerly part of a neighboring business) the atmosphere and ambiance provide a comfortable, casual (with a touch of semi-elegance), well lighted, and thoughtfully decorated dining room. The warm orange walls adorned with a few tasteful paintings, offset with brown leather wall accents, and tiled walls, all work well together to create the proper mood. Immaculately clean, small wood-grained laminated tables, soft black leather chairs, and well-appointed tables set with chopsticks, soy sauce, and Ai Sakae’s extensive menu, complete the initial introduction to Ai Sakae.
I arrived with several friends, and we were immediately greeted and seated by our attentive and well-humored waiter, Stanley. We never felt rushed and were able to enjoy some of our culturally appropriate BYOB while we perused the menu. Since Ai Sakae is a BYOB, I brought along some Orion, a Japanese lager with a bit of a punch and a depth of flavor. Mike F. went with Japan’s most popular beer, Sapporo, while Mike Z. went Thai with Chang, a full-flavored subtle lager. Dennis preferred a non-alcoholic house Thai Iced Tea. As a special treat, the restaurant sent over a well-appreciated complimentary plate of delicious sushi pizza, a crispy, yet chewy, fried rice patty topped with avocado, salmon, tuna, or crab meat, and drizzled with blended mayonnaise and wasabi mix. First time I have had it and it was a treat. Great start!
Our group decided to start off with some shared appetizers. First to arrive at our table was one of the Sakae Special Rolls, the Ridgedale Roll. Filled with crunchy spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, and cucumber with soy paper, topped with avocado, caviar rice, and crunchy yellowtail, and then topped with five diverse kinds of fish and special sauce. It was as good as it sounds.
For first-timers, or those not familiar with these cuisines, there are a lot of unfamiliar words, flavor combinations, and ingredients to wrap your head around, but no fear, the staff at Ai Sakae will be more than happy to answer any questions and/or offer recommendations if requested. Remember that while it is true that China, Japan, and Thailand share some ingredients, some methods, and some ideas about food (like using an abundance of fresh ingredients), their cuisines are distinctly different, and Asian cuisine is unique in comparison to various parts of the world.
Tempura Shrimp and Tempura Vegetables arrived next. The deep-fried tempura batter covering the elongated shrimp, and veggies, had a super crispy texture and was full of flavor, and perfectly complemented with an accompanying dipping sauce.
The “Love Boat” sailed in next. Ten pieces of sushi, six kinds of sashimi, and a love roll. The fish was so fresh it could have just come out of the Ocean. As we dabbed the wasabi with our chopsticks and quickly devoured the abundant assortment of spicy tuna, salmon, striped bass, yellowtail, roe, fluke, white fish, and more, we were beginning to wonder if our mouths were bigger than our stomachs, but we soldiered on.
Mike F. enjoyed an aromatic bowl of sour, salty, and spicy Tom Yum Seafood Soup as we pondered over our choice of entrees. This went on for a while, as one might expect based on the vast selection of mouth-watering choices listed on the menu.
I finally settled on Mongolian Beef, which came with a choice of white or brown rice (I went with brown), and a side of Miso Soup. The beef had a mild taste, as Mongolian beef should have, and came with those trademark green onions and sauce. Mongolian beef has a complicated sweet and spicy taste and can or cannot be spicy hot. The dish was scrumptious, but the next time I will ask them to punch up the heat index, as I tend to prefer very spicy food. The Miso Soup was savory with a nice umami flavor. You could taste the fresh ingredients in every bite.
Others in the group, for their entrees, went with the Hunan Style Chicken; a favorite Chinese American stir fry made with juicy, thinly sliced chicken breasts and veggies, in a dynamic savory sauce; and the Teriyaki Chicken, grilled chicken lacquered with a sweet soy teriyaki sauce; and a specially made order of Shrimp with Garlic Sauce. You have to love the healthy and light appearance that dominates Japanese cuisine. I should mention that the presentation of every dish was artistic and tantalizing. You could clearly see the effort put into the careful preparation of every serving. As they say, “food presentation is the key to pulling all five senses into the experience of eating.” The consensus was that everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals, as well as the sincerely warm hospitality and truly professional service by the entire restaurant team. Very pleasant culinary experience, but unfortunately, not one of us had any room left for their tempting, decadent desserts.
So, when that craving for Asian food kicks in, I would highly recommend giving Ai Sakae a visit. I am confident you will enjoy it as much as I did. And please remember to continue to support all our local businesses. It is appreciated!
Quote from Ai Sakae Asian Cuisine’s Website:
“The key to our success is simple: providing quality consistent food that tastes great every single time,”
“I think it’s important to be open-minded and expand. Be adventurous with your palate and you’ll come across a lot of good people, good food, remarkably interesting cultures.” Vietnamese Chef, Vy Nguyen.
Dine-In, Take-Out, Contact Free Delivery (Grubhub), BYOB, and Catering. Special Requests Taken for Food Allergies. Off-Street Parking Lot, Open 7 Days a Week.
Ai Sakae Asian Cuisine is located at 970B Tabor Road, Parsippany. (Morris Plains, NJ 07050) – (973) 998-8818 www.aisakae.com