Its name is Genji Japanese Steakhouse, but this striking new 400-seat restaurant in Novi offers much more for diners than its name suggests.
Besides teppanyaki grill meals, the 15-page opening menu offers a wide range of contemporary fusion appetizers; almost two dozen salads and soups; Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and fusion entrees; and multi-course Japanese kaiseki meals, in which the chef prepares dishes of his choosing.
A separate casual menu for the 46-seat U-shaped cocktail bar features items such as Wagyu beef sliders.
Head chef Miyoshi Yamada trained in Japan and has worked in New York City and Chicago, but his kitchen will also include a Western culinary chef, says Tony Pi, son of company founder Henry Pi of Midland.
"We have a vision for this place that is not your normal Asian restaurant," Tony Pi said. "You find a lot of American restaurants that have an Asian-influenced menu. ... We want to take what we do well and infuse it with Western influence."
Located in the former Too Chez restaurant and catering center facing Novi Road at I-96, Genji is the largest project to date for the Pi family, whose other Genji Japanese steakhouses are in Midland and Saginaw.
The Novi steakhouse -- including its adjoining 5,000-square-foot prep kitchen and offices -- cost about $7 million and required a major renovation of the old facilities, Tony Pi says. "It wasn't a total rebuild. However, about 80% of everything is new in there," he says.
Designed by Ron & Roman architects of Birmingham, the contemporary interior features a Swarovski crystal chandelier and onyx host's desk at the entrance; subtle color-changing recessed lights in the ceiling; both traditional and pop art, including dozens of collectible Kidrobot vinyl figurines; and white decorative screens that can be lowered out of the ceiling like shades to act as room dividers.
Much of the dining room's back wall is covered by a field of 15 adjoining LED screens that work in unison to show a single massive image, or individually to show multiple different images.
"The idea was to have a 'wow' focal point you could see in every direction," Pi said. "During March Madness we will be able to show games on multiple screens, and Super Bowl will be a big day for the big screen."
At other times, the screen displays photos of tranquil Japanese nature scenes or cityscapes.
Blending sophisticated fabrics and finishes with pop-art touches such as Kidrobot figures was designed to make the restaurant feel approachable and modern.
"We wanted a high-end feel without the stuffiness. We wanted to make it a fun atmosphere," Pi said. "We want people to feel comfortable bringing in children. We wanted to get away from a formal dress code."
Genji has 150 employees, many of whom had not worked in an Asian restaurant before. Its Jan. 14 soft opening was designed to let the staff get its feet on the ground before the restaurant's grand opening, scheduled Friday through Sunday.
Monday through Wednesday of next week will be benefit days, during which 100% of sales will be donated to a variety of local charities and organizations, Pi said.
So far, he said, the restaurant's 20 onyx-trimmed teppanyaki grill tables are attracting the most guests, but sushi has also been very popular.
"We started with three sushi chefs and now we find we need six. It's double what we expected," Pi said.
When a companion and I stopped in for dinner anonymously early last week, I was impressed not only with Genji's unexpectedly handsome dining room and sushi bar, but the beautifully presented food.
The seafood was impeccably fresh; the flavors were clean and vibrant, and every dish was more elaborately composed than I expected. The food photos in our online gallery show the dishes as they were served; the kitchen did not know they would be photographed for an article.
Reservations are recommended, in part because the restaurant is still seating only about 60% of its capacity, until it is sure it can handle larger crowds.
Pi says guests should also be aware that the restaurant's address -- 27155 S. Karevich Drive -- is causing some confusion, because the city recently changed the street name from Sheraton Drive to Karevich Drive. The building is west of Novi Road and north of I-96; look for the tall Genji sign. (248-380-6881 and www.genjinovi.com)