Hamburg Steak North Continent, Sapporo

We have been looking forward to putting together this review, as North Continent Sapporo is one of our all time favorite restaurants in this city, Sapporo, the best city in the entire world.

To begin with, there is a difference in Japan between a hamburger (ハンバーガー) and a hamburg (ハンブルク). For a simple, rough American like myself, those two words are so similar as to be easily confused. As a primer for visitors; a hamburger (ends in a “ga” sound in Japan) comes with a bun (which meets my expectations as an American); a hamburg, (which ends in the sound “ku” in Japanese), is what we in the United States would call a hamburger patty (and no bread). Okay, now we have the context in which to introduce the han-bur-ku specialty restaurant of North Continent.

North Continent is in Chou-ku, a short 10 minute walk from either of the train stations at Odori or Susukino. North Continent is on the same block as Tanukikouji 1 (ii-chome), but on the northern side, very close to both Garaku soup curry and Soup Curry Treasure, just up the street from Salt Moderate, and about three minutes on foot from another of our favorites, Delhi (the Indian-inspired soup curry restaurant). As it turns out, this is an excellent neighborhood for food. We’ll add a review for the Italian restaurant Agora (which is around the other side of the block) as we add to list of the “best pizza in Sapporo” (more on that as we add up to this, the most excellent of Sapporo restaurant blogs).

Even though North Continent serves “hamburg steaks,” on a plate as opposed to a bun, and the overall experience of dining here is very different from the other “hamburger” places, we will still likely included this restaurant (as an important exception) on our list of best hamburgers in Sapporo. While we have reviewed so many of the “on the bun” variety (which we love, we were at The Meat Shop again for lunch today), we may be equally excited about North Continent, and have eaten here probably more than any establishment in this very fine town.

Although all the plates at North Continent come with a big, delicious salad (with a dressing that was remarkable good the first time I had it and is still fantastic, some many meals later), the focus of the food here is meat, the “hamburg steak.”

It’s a relatively simple menu. Apart from a few side orders (which we will let you explore of yourself as you come for your first visit), the menu opens up to a series of five choices of meat (mostly beef, but also one choice of pork, and the inclusion of one choice of deer meat (which is classic Hokkaido).

For my part, I have ordered the pork (which is wrapped in bacon, I believe, and not actually in the typical “patty” form) many times. Delicious. Recommended. And yet I mostly order the beef, and the first choice on the menu, that comes in the shape of a doughnut, in the middle of which they crack an egg, so that becomes part of the meal.

After you choose your meat, though, you’re just entering the truly special part of the ordering process. In addition to the selection of meat, there are a variety of sauces to choose from (tonight there were eight). In this review you’ll see my favorite is pictured at least once. It’s a sweet gravy sauce, not too heavy. And it is served with that small dish of some chopped (?), pickled (??), “I don’t know what it is” kind of vegetable (fruit?) that has a exotic and wonderful flavor. I will often take just a bit of it, places some of it on a half-bite of potato.

Yes, all the hamburg steaks at North Continent come with a couple of small, deep-fried potatoes. There is also always some kind of seasonal vegetable added to the ensemble (recently I was eating something I thought might be a very thin, grilled asparagus, but I w. as told it was a garlic shoot?). I already mentioned the salad, also included. There is a side of rice as well (which I usually skip – even for my big appetite, I find the meal filling without the rice).

And you simply choose your meat, and your sauce, (add a beer, if you’re me), and after a few minutes of eager anticipation, an absolutely beautiful plate is delivered to your table, and the dining begins.

Here are details from the menu, showing just a couple of the many choices of sauce available at North Continent.

This picture above is what I typically order; that is unless there is something better on the “seasonal” part of the menu. “Seasonal,” you might ask?

This picture (above) is an example of seasonal sauce. North Continent changes their menu about four times per year – literally with the seasons. Incorporating new choices (some repeat, year after year; I would know, I have been here so many times), and often featuring vegetables (and even flowers) from the current season.

Here is a picture from the Summer menu; a special sauce with tomatoes, red onion, and grapefruit.  That is not my typical order, but like everything at Hamburg Steak North Continent, it was amazing.

Some of my favorites (which aren’t available in Spring, as we prepare this review of North Continent Sapporo) are the chili con carne (a light, delicious chili they serve over the meat) and the a tomato sauce, that is more “pureed tomato” than anything you might confuse as being “Italian” in origin. Both are exceptional and I look forward to having them again (as I am quite sure I will).

The Hamburg Steak North Continent restaurant takes the whole experience one step further, but having some of the best architecture of any restaurant in Sapporo. Nothing too modern, and perhaps that is why it’s so appealing. A classic, organic feel, with lots of wood, soft lighting, and other touches that take the experience out of the ordinary.

One last point worth mentioning: I like beer. I have had many, many delicious Sapporo Classic beers, from the tap (occassionally two, in one sitting). But beyond the beer, they have several other beverages worth looking at. Some special juices. And also a really wonderful tea menu, with herbal teas, offered with a sense of ceremony. My reading ability is still “mah-mah,” but (“demo”), there is a tea I am told is called Asahikawa (after the central-Hokkaido city), and it is wonderful and a personal favorite of mine.

Just to show balance, I will offer one complaint to the owners and management of North Continent Sapporo – the “QR” codes for ordering are a mistake, and take away some of the soft intimacy of an otherwise timeless experience. QRs are modern, literally ugly things. To take us out of the experience and steer us back into our phones is an almost criminal development that is more and more common. There are restaurants in Sapporo I will never go back to, as they insist on the QR code, anti-human method. North Continent would be wise to see how out of place the “technology” is in such an otherwise tender, wonderful place to spend a meal.

Did I mention that North Continent Sapporo has a kind of “reward” or “frequent diner” card? They do. As pay your bill, they will issue you a small card, and they use a series of different “stamps” on the card, depending on the total amount of your bill. The stamps are each different, a “cloud,” a small “mountain range,” etc. Each time you come back, they add additional “stamps” to your card, and over time, all the different images from the stamps create a scene – a landscape. When the landscape is complete, you exchange the completed card for a discount on your meal. Artistic, special, part of the appeal.

(Compare the “perfect touch” of the discount card to the impersonal, generic QR codes they have added everywhere, and you can see my surprise that they don’t see the stylistic conflict there.)

To close out this review, we can leave you with a little tease North Continent, about something you might discover as you have (or complete) your first meal, you might discover a small “surprise” under the salad. Could it be? Maybe. And the only way to be sure is to come in, and enjoy the perfect atmosphere and exceptional food, and to see for yourself. Highly recommended.

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