Dining » Fat Mouth

Suburban Bawl

In Johnson County, there seem to be too many raw fish in the sea.

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The new Cheesecake Factory just opened at 6675 West 119th Street in Overland Park, and rival restaurateurs are cringing. "It's definitely going to hurt my business," says one of the most prominent chef-owners on 119th Street. "I'm predicting my business will be down 10 percent. But I'll get it back."

Oh, I'm sure he will. But will everyone? Johnson County is close to its restaurant saturation point. Restaurants continue to open, but who the hell is eating in all of them?

Recently a friend and I drove out to the six-month-old Shogun Sushi and Steak Restaurant (12028 West 95th Street in Lenexa). That bustling stretch around 95th Street and Quivira Road boasts nearly a dozen chain restaurants, including Mimi's Café, Outback Steakhouse, BD's Mongolian Barbecue and Houlihan's.

Although it's in one of Lenexa's dreariest shopping centers, Shogun is exceptionally attractive, with a long and comfortable sushi bar and a pretty dining room designed around the six shiny teppan-yaki grills. When Lou Jane and I arrived, a couple was sitting at the sushi bar, and several people were seated around one of the teppan-yaki tables. By the time our Mexican-born chef started grilling meat for our dinner, we were the only customers in the place.

In south Johnson County alone, there's Haru (15202 West 119th Street in Overland Park), Han Shin (4817 West 117th Street in Leawood), Izumi (11658 West 135th Street in Overland Park) and Nikko (10800 Metcalf in Overland Park). So it might have made more sense for Shogun to have opened in a less competitive neighborhood -- like, say, downtown Kansas City.

Is it too controversial to think that a sushi-and-steak restaurant might be as successful north of 18th Street -- closer to convention trade and the after-work crowd -- as in an ugly suburban strip?

Yes, says Shogun's owner Shelly Wong. "We have a great location near Oak Park Mall. There's lots of people here."

No, says Andi Udris, president of the Economic Development Corporation, who would love to see a Japanese steakhouse downtown. (Udris insists Crown Center's Kabuki has a teppan-yaki grill; it doesn't.)

"There's this misconception among restaurateurs -- and especially their lenders -- that they have to go where everyone else goes," Udris says. "They don't realize that there's less competition downtown and a lunchtime population of 50,000 people."

Take that idea and grill it.

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