Don’t let the Chinese name fool you. Jianfeng Li knows a thing or two about Japanese food. The chef has been cooking at the hibachi table at Koto Japanese Steakhouse for 10 years. Before that, he worked in New York, where he went to school to learn to make sushi. Now, along with co-owner Jerry Lin, Jianfeng is spreading his wings with a Japanese restaurant of his own.
Through translator Lili Feng, Jianfeng says he expects Hana Japanese Restaurant (no relation to the defunct Hana Restaurant in Stowe) to open by the end of August. It will be a welcome addition to the Blue Mall in South Burlington, where 135 Dorset Street has stood empty since Eric’s Place closed in 2010.
Inside the under-construction restaurant, the kitchen is filling up with all-new equipment. A countertop is being fitted with a sushi bar. The offerings will include both traditional maki and hand rolls and original creations Jianfeng says he looks forward to sharing with Vermonters. The Spicy Crunch Roll combines spicy tuna with deep-fried avocado. The Lobster Roll features lobster tempura, cucumber, crab, avocado and shrimp, all wrapped in soybean paper.
While the 60-seat restaurant has no hibachi tables, Hana will serve hibachi-style meals like the ones Jianfeng prepared at Koto until he left last month. They will range from lunch specials featuring veggies or chicken with fried rice and miso soup to multicourse dinners of filet mignon and lobster tail. The kitchen appetizers and entrées will offer a few surprises, including soft-shell crab katsu and yakisoba.
Though the food is Japanese, Jianfeng says his beer and wine menu will veer toward the local, with options such as glasses of Shelburne Vineyard wines. Of course, for a true taste of the Orient, there’s warm sake, too.