The owner of the Wakatobi Japanese Grill on Fremont Boulevard in Seaside left his home country over a decade and a half ago.
No, he’s not from Japan. Hattar Hattar came to the U.S. from the resort islands of Wakatobi in Indonesia. And no, there was not a stop in Tokyo to learn the ways of Japanese cooking. His life as a Japanese chef began in the unlikely location of Sikeston, Tennessee. He spent seven years at the helm of Sapporo Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi in Monterey before opening Wakatobi in 2017. But Hattar’s route to a kitchen in a Monterey County strip shopping center was as indirect as a migrating bird, with stops at restaurants in Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida.
Hattar says the word wakatobi translates to a strong bird, perhaps in migration – an apt description for a chef willing to travel so far.
Weekly: Why did you name your restaurant Wakatobi Japanese Grill? Was it a reference to your travels?
Hattar: There are four islands in Wakatobi. Wanci, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. If you take the first two letters of each island’s name, it spells Wakatobi. I later learned what wakatobi means in Japanese from a friend.
You are like a migrating bird, though.
I like to think of it as a launching bird.
When was the last time you were in Wakatobi?
A very long time ago, but my mom still lives there.
Are some people surprised to find noodles other than udon?
Yes. Yakisoba is the only stir fry noodle. The Nabeyaki Udon comes on a hot plate that sears the egg and you can watch it finish cooking.
What is your favorite American dish?
Easy answer – steak.