Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Benihana

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Benihana on Urbanspoon

I thought I had been to Benihana before. Turns out I had been to a similar Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, and, like others, generalized and thought that the showy restaurant was a Benihana.

You might have been to such a restaurant yourself for an occasion. You are there for the show as much as you are there for the food, if not more so. The chefs perform tricks ranging from juggling pepper shakers, flipping food, and creative presentations. I would wager most people leave remembering the jokes and tricks more than they remember the food.
Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan (鉄板), which means iron plate, and yaki (焼き), which means grilled, broiled or pan-fried. In Japan, teppanyaki refers to dishes cooked using an iron plate. Modern, Western teppanyaki grills are typically propane-heated flat surface grills, and are widely used to cook food in front of guests at restaurants.


My girlfriend and I went to the only Benihana in fhe Sacramento area, over in Citrus Heights. As mentioned, I thought I had been to Benihana before, but upon walking into the restaurant I realized I had been to some similar teppanyaki and not the famous chain. I had to wait at the very small bar for my friend and reviewed a drink menu with all sorts of refreshing tropical drinks. I chose a passionfruit lemonade for my wait.

Once my friend arrived we were quickly seated at one of the many show grills. I would say there were about 10 of the grills, each had u-shaped bar seating around the grill where the chef would be showing off. A server came to take our orders and we were served with soup and salad. We had been seated with a group of women celebrating a birthday. I looked about the room and noticed that for a Thursday night, the place was filling up. Honestly, I've never heard any friend or aquaintance say they had been to Benihana. I thought it was gonna be slow. Instead, the place was full of families and groups.

Our chef finally arrived and introduced himself. Although friendly and jovial, I was soon wishing we had gotten a better one. A huge part of the visit is the show and our chef fumbled some shrimp tail flipping right from the get-go. Chefs at other tables were flipping things like crazy and ours was a bore. He did the required things such as a few tosses of the pepper shaker, but otherwise his tricks seemed few and far between.

As to the food, there was quite a variety on the menu to choose from. One thing for sure, you don't have to worry about calorie overload here. Since everything is grilled, you are getting simple food without a bunch of extra fat. You will up your calories if you go for any of the tempura, of course. I stayed away from that and went with a simple rainbow sushi roll as a starter. Don't expect too much from the sushi bar. The sushi menu is limited, but well rounded. The roll itself was generous, but nothing special.

The entree menu offers everything from seafood to filet mignon. My friend chose the chicken and shrimp grilled special and ordered fried rice on the side. Each dinner comes with soup, salad, and shrimp appetizer and so ordering shrimp as one of your dinner items would be a bit repetitive unless you are a serious shrimp lover. Since everything is freshly grilled in front of you, you get hot, perfectly grilled items straight to your plate.

I chose the Sesame crusted tuna steak with tomato, avocado and edamame in a white balsalmic reduction, served medium rare. If you like rare tuna, you might need to ask them to not sear it as much. It was plated for me nearly rare, but continued to cook on my plate from the veggies piled on it and so by the end of my meal the tuna was cooked. For those that like tuna sashimi, this is more important to note than those who won't eat raw fish.

At the end of the meal the server comes around and takes digital pictures of your party that you can then view the next day on their website. They also offer a "Be the Chef" package where you can come to learn some of the grill tricks from the chefs.

The thing about Japanese food is the beauty of its simplicity. In that regard, Benihana fits the bill - simple grilled food that is actually healthy for you. You even get a choice of brown versus white rice. My friend and I agreed that it was actually a very good value for your dollar. With all the courses that are included, I would recommend it for simplicity and generosity. Just hope that you get a fun chef to make the experience an exceptional value for your money. 
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