ORLEANS – Orleans has a broad array of dining options likely to suit most any culinary craving. But one thing that’s been missing around here is Japanese cuisine.
That will change with the arrival of Ten Yen, mainly a sushi bar but also serving a limited number of ramen bowls each day, according to owner-chef Michael Jacek.
“We’re hoping to open in early- to mid-May,” Jacek said, explaining that renovations are well underway for the restaurant, which will be located on Main Street in what was formerly the Nauset Grille. With his new small restaurant, Jacek said he will offer sushi bar seating with an open kitchen.
Operating with a long held less-is-more attitude, Jacek intends to keep the number of seats low while building a strong take-out following. Sushi will be the main focus, the ramen will take a back seat.
“I will say when we do make ramen, it rivals anything you’ll get in New England,” Jacek noted with a grin.
The broth for the ramen is traditional tonkotsu made from pork bones, with specific chicken cuts added to give it a “golden flavor,” Jacek explained.
“I know it sounds odd to describe a flavor using a color, ‘golden,’ but that’s really what it’s like, just a very golden, full flavor,” he said.
Jacek makes his broth daily, which he believes is one of the secrets to his bowls’ signature flavor. This, in turn, limits the number of orders he can make. When the broth is gone, the bowls are gone. But “that’s OK,” he said, because his real focus and passion is his sushi.
“There’s an old proverb, chase two rabbits, catch none,” he said. “I like to focus my energies on doing fewer things very well.”
Jacek grew up in Harwich. His dad was a Harwich police officer and his mom owned a beauty salon in town. He graduated from what was then Harwich High School in 2006. His first real training and introduction to sushi was at Inaho in Yarmouth. However, sushi, Japanese, or any kind of Asian fusion were never at the top of Jacek’s culinary career goals.
“Oh no, not at all,” he said. “I was into the whole idea of classic French cuisine.”
Jacek attended the Culinary Institute of America and has since worked in kitchens on the Cape and across the country. Locally, he’s worked as a master cook at the Ocean House restaurant, executive chef at Mac’s Shack, Barley Neck Inn and Cafeteria Boston.
“I wound up coming back to the Cape to help a friend open a restaurant,” he said. One thing led to another and in 2016 he opened Ten Yen in Harwich Port.
Restaurant life during a pandemic closed Ten Yen’s doors because it couldn’t continue serving with the ban on bar seating. The space was turned into a service area for a new venture, Three Monkeys. Jacek said he believes working together during COVID-19 times accelerated decisions he and the others at Three Monkeys would have ultimately reached and he decided to head out on his own again.
“I thought of going off Cape again,” he said, adding a number of opportunities here on the peninsula piqued his interest, too. One in particular, at Wychmere Beach Club creating and serving sushi one day a week, he’s chosen to pursue. Ultimately, he decided to give Ten Yen another shot in a new home.
While a number of restaurant spaces were available in town, Jacek said he chose his new location for several reasons. Financing was one consideration, a knowledge of the space he’d be converting – “I knew the previous owners Matt and Rebecca and knew the place” – and finally a bit of whimsy.
“The original Ten Yen was in a strip mall,” he said. “This location has a bit of that vibe.”
While the small restaurant has been approved for seating up to two dozen patrons indoors, Jacek said he plans to start small, with a traditional Tokyo style sushi bar. Diners will have the opportunity to watch their meals being prepared. The restaurant will also have beer, wine, sake and a small list of custom cocktails.
“I’m really looking forward to developing the takeout aspect of the restaurant,” he added.
The menu will be “pretty standard” and include some appetizers. Jacek said the quality of preparation will set things apart for customers.
In addition to working at Inaho, Jacek said he spent over a month in Japan studying classic preparation techniques. Quality of fish is important, and Jacek said he’s confident he’s found reputable suppliers who use sustainable practices.
“Using the right fish and aging it well make all the difference,” he explained. “A lot of people think it’s all about super fresh, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Aging is really important. Shellfish, roe, those are where you focus on fresh, fresh. For sushi, you have to age and prepare the fish correctly for the best flavor.”
Opening a restaurant during an ongoing pandemic is a “different entry point,” Jacek concedes with a wry smile. His objective right now: “make it to next year.”
Noelle Pina of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce said she believes there are reasons for optimism for the coming season.
“But restaurateurs are still navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “The storm is far from over and restaurants still need patronage from the community: order takeout. Dine in if you’re comfortable. Tip well and support restaurants as often as possible.”
Jacek said he’s “gone all in and going to give it a shot.”
“I love preparing sushi,” he said. “The open kitchen is a great concept. It allows people to ask questions. It’s so different from other restaurant work where you generally know how your evening is going to go right from the moment you start prepping. This is about serving something just made at the last possible moment to the best of your ability. It’s never boring.”