After a late night at work, the hubby and I decided to forgo cooking and instead try somewhere new to us. My husband thought sushi sounded appealing, so we pointed our car to Tokyo on University. We’ve driven by their sign for years, but for whatever reason, never stopped in. It was nearly 9pm by the time we arrived and the parking lot was mostly empty. We entered the restaurant and found ourselves walking over a wooden bridge. In the quiet restaurant both our echoing footsteps and the running water seemed unnaturally loud. As we crossed the bridge I smiled to see plastic sea creatures hanging out in the small “creek”, along with the requisite pennies.
As we entered the restaurant proper, the greeter asked us if we wanted a grill or a table. We misheard and assumed he had asked “booth or table”. Which is how we found ourselves at a hibachi grill in a room empty save for some of the staff. Oops. After some debate we decided to stay put and try the hibachi experience. As we studied the menu, our server took our drink orders. After some consideration, I selected teriyaki tilapia, while my husband opted for the teriyaki chicken. Since a craving for sushi was what had lead us down this path, he also ordered a California roll (with avocado, though he could also have selected fish eggs).
The hibachi menu comes with a full compliment of sides–salad, soup, shrimp appetizers, and fried rice. Our soup and salad (shown at the top of the post) came up together. The salad consisted of small chunks of iceberg lettuce and a few lonely carrot shreds topped with a “ginger” dressing which was thick and creamy and mostly tasted like a fresh mayonnaise. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it wasn’t really a ginger dressing either. The soup was a salty broth which featured precisely two mushroom slices. It’s hard to go too far wrong with a salty broth, and I enjoyed it. As we were eating, another diner was added to our table. The hibachi table forms a ‘c’ shape around the grill with seating for eight and one side left open for the chef. We had been seated at one of the short ends of the ‘c’ and the new diner was placed opposite us. Which was a little awkward since the table was too large to easily converse across for small talk and not talking meant sort of uneasily trying to avoid eye contact. As we finished our soup and salads, my husband’s sushi arrived.
I greatly appreciated this timing; I had been unsure how sushi and hibachi would flow together and this worked nicely. The hubby reported that his sushi was pretty average. Good, but not spectacular. After he finished his sushi and plates were cleared, there was a pause before our chef appeared. The pause stretched long enough that we were beginning to wonder if the late hour meant our order was being cooked in the kitchen after all. That question was answered by the rattling appearance of the chef–pushing the cart laden with food and sauces.
For those who haven’t experienced hibachi before, it’s one part dinner and one part show. Your meal is cooked on a large grill to a steady stream of patter, utensil rattling, and showy tricks (flipping raw eggs, twirling flippers, etc). The chef cooks the meal–usually starting with a fried rice, vegetables, and then the meats–and as each dish is finished, serves it onto your waiting plate.
As our chef approached the table and started his routine, I felt for him. It’s late, the end of a shift, and he’s facing down a table of three rather unenthusiastic diners all of whom are more interested in dinner than a show. Still, he tried, rattling his utensils together and cleaning the grill with an impressive blast of fire. This was followed with the “egg roll” (spinning a raw egg on the grill) and making a train out of a carefully stacked pile of onion slices. Having seen a Hibachi routine before, the puns weren’t new to me and so didn’t help lift the morose mood at the table. Unfortunately, I think this is one of those experiences which is enhanced by a crowd, it loses something in a quiet room.
Our chef began by serving up three sauces to each of us, naming them as “for chicken”, “for vegetables”, and “for everything!”. The chicken sauce (bottom left) was an oil based sauce with sesame seeds. The vegetable sauce (top) was also oil based, with a lightly sweet, sharp soy flavor. The everything sauce (bottom right) tasted as though it used the same base as the ginger dressing, though perhaps with less ginger. Thick and creamy, it was highly addictive. I tasted them out of curiosity, but since I tend to prefer my foods without dipping sauces, I didn’t actually use them for my meal.
The fried rice was finished first–small bits of fried egg, corn kernels, and peas nestled among the rice. The sauces added during cooking made the dish powerfully salty and the vegetables were too scarce to balance the flavor.
The vegetables which followed were a mixed bag. The onions were sweet and tender and I could have happily eaten a plateful of them. However, the sauce clung to the broccoli which was slightly overcooked and had a strange aftertaste. The carrots were thinly sliced with an earthy flavor. The peeled and seeded zucchini was tender, verging on overcooked, but had the benefit of not absorbing as much sauce so the flavor was more neutral. My husband reported that the mushrooms were good.
We opted to skip the shrimp appetizer due to allergies on my husband’s part and texture issues on mine.
I found it interesting that my husband’s chicken had a slightly longer cook time than my fish. (For some reason, I always assume fish has a short cook time, I’m not sure exactly why.) My husband’s chicken was diced into cubes before serving.
The hubby was happy that the chicken was not overly salty.
I began to rethink selecting fish as I watched teriyaki sauce being applied for the 3rd or 4th time. Finally, deemed done, our chef scooped it up and placed it on my plate.
The tender Tilapia, with its somewhat fishy taste, was totally over powered by the thick, sweet teriyaki sauce. I can’t blame Tokyo entirely. I mean, I read the menu and decided this was a good idea. But I was a little surprised that such a poor match was on the menu.
I suspect that our experience at Tokyo suffered for being late on a slow night. The momentum was gone and everything dragged, with pauses stretching just a little too long. We were equally tired and it had that poisonous effect of taking down the atmosphere, even our chef seemed halfhearted in his chatter. Which I can forgive, it’s understandable and hey, it was late. The real drag was the lackluster food. It was edible, but uneven and some things (like the broccoli) were downright odd. Hibachi, because of the performance aspect, tends to be a bit more expensive than ordering off a regular menu. I find that people have two responses to this: (A) I’m here for the food and if I’m paying more, it should be excellent food or (B) I’m here for the performance and if the food stinks, oh well, that’s not what I was there for anyway. I tend to fall into camp (A) and so was disappointed. Those of you who are more focused on the showmanship aspect may feel differently. I will say that if you haven’t experienced hibachi before, of if you have someone in your life who hasn’t (especially if that someone is a child), that you should definitely give the experience a try–I’m just not sure that Tokyo is the place to go for that experience.
Total for the meal: $42.34 (included one chicken teriyaki hibachi, one Tilapia teriyaki hibachi, one California roll, and one soft drink)