Though I love to cook at home and enjoy simple home made dishes, I also enjoy eating out. From having onion bajjis delivered to the apartment in the South of France to enjoying a cheese Fondue in Switzerland, through our travels, we have had different cuisines, that too we were able to find Vegetarian food!
When I eat out at restaurants I always wonder how it will be to see a chef cooking my meal infront of me, just like an episode out of Iron chef. Such thoughts remind me of the stories N tells me when he stays in Japan and the Teppanyaki Restaurants he loves to eat at. Teppan in Japanese means iron plate and Yaki means grilled or pan fried. In Teppanyaki restaurants, as the guests sit around the table with the hot plate at the center (which is used for cooking), the chef prepares the meal at the table, infront of the guests, entertaining them with his/her style of cooking. Be prepared to see some miss and blink action with the chef’s playing catch and throw with utensils and salt and pepper shakers.
In America, the Teppanyaki style of cooking was made famous by Benihana Restaurant Chain. Started in Newyork, in the 1960’s, Benihana is now spread across the globe with nearly 80 restaurants in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.
We have been to Benihana previously and this particular Benihana we went to last week was in Plano, Texas, it was a very late celebration of N’s Birthday in March.
Sometimes living in Texas and being a Vegetarian is a tricky situation as for Business Lunch and Dinner we end up in a Steak House with just a bowl of salad or French fries. The interesting part in this restaurant is that though Steak and succulent seafood entrées and Sushi are well known and famous in Japanese Steakhouses, Benihana offers a unique dining experience for vegetarians as well as steak lovers. Just take a look at the menu and you’ll know!
We got a table facing the gorgeous fountains of the mall and while we waited for our cook top to heat up we sipped some refreshing iced tea with lemon. The beauty of the tables here is that the chef cooks the meal surrounded by guests(up to 8 guests can be comfortably seated around the table). By the time we look at the menu and decide what to order, the cook top gets hot enough for the chef to start cooking.
There is no confusion of an order missing in the kitchen or getting a different dish as the chef always checks with us before cooking. There will be a movable cart next to the chef which will contain the necessary ingredients for cooking Japanese food: Rice, Noodles, Proteins (Seafood, Chicken or Steak), Sauces(Soy sauce, Vinegar, hot sauce), Seasonings (Salt and Pepper, Sesame seeds), Butters(Plain, Garlic butter, Sunflower oil), vegetables ,eggs and tofu.
The dinner preparation starts soon after the chef confirms the orders from each of the 8 guests. While we watched Fried rice being prepared, the waitress brought us more appetizers- vegetable tempura, a garden salad with ginger dressing, Edamame and Miso Soup. Preparing food is an art and the chef reminds us of this concept through out the meal. The rice takes the shape of a beating heart. Onions, Scallions,egg and carrots decorate the hearty fried rice.
The entertaining is not only with the rice, the onion rings used as a side is transformed into a flaming volcano as it moves around the sizzling cook top. As soon as the volcano fumes have cooled down, the zucchini slices are attached to become a chook-chook- train
Want to know what I am taking about? Instead of eating the same Fried rice and noodles, check out Benihana for weekend! If you have kids(we saw some kids in our table giggling and getting involved) they are sure to love these tricks shown by the chef as he grills the onions! Yes, by the time the onions are grilled to perfection, they would have played many characters in the food play by the chef. And the perfect drink that goes with this selection of appetizer is the hot green Tea.
N had requested a Spicy Tofu with fried rice and I had the Steamed vegetables. The rest of our table had Lobster, Shrimp with noodles, Scallops and NY strip, though the options available also include filet mignon and tenderloin.
Though the table was a mix of vegetarians and meat lovers, the fact was that whichever entrée was prepared first, it was always vegetarian, only after serving us, the chef proceeded to prepare the entrées for other guests at our table. I wish the transatlantic flights provides such good, hot and delicious food for us vegetarians instead of a fruit bowl! Not only that, after each entrée was prepared the chef took the time to clean the table and only then he proceeded to cook the next course.
N’s tofu looked like a thick slice of steak and it was sautéed with green onions and a variety of sauces and he had it with the fried rice. The steamed vegetables were moved around the cooktop to heat it uniformly as the chef prepared the other entrée’s. The vegetable steamer had some Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Baby radish, Squash, Spinach, Asparagus, String beans and cherry tomatoes, lightly seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper.
The chef skillfully diced the shrimp and lobster tails and with even more precision tossed them into this hat, with a rhythmic beat provided by salt and pepper shakers. The knife skills are so amazing that after he sliced the meat to perfection, the chef got a round of well deserved applause from the table. The dining experience was more of a performance than just cooking and the food was delicious, seasoned perfectly and cooked according to our preference.
Dessert options were as unique as the dining experience, including a green tea ice cream and banana tempura.
Here is a look at our full meal before we gobbled it
Though we visit Benihana often, anyone can join the Chef’s table and get a complimentary dinner for their Birthdays (conditions apply, check here). Benihana almost has a Million Members in this exclusive club! The best part is that the picture taken at the table is immediately processed into a personalized greeting card and presented to the person celebrating his/her birthday. There is also a free Kabuki club membership which offers children under 12 to choose a cute Kabuki Mug of their choice on their Birthday to take along when they select a kid’s special menu.
What are you waiting for? Get to know more about Japan and its cuisine and hospitality, watch how your food is made, interact with the chefs and enjoy a memorable evening at Benihana. Give the usual fried rice, noodles or soup and break and enjoy freshly made, piping hot, perfectly seasoned food, made infront of your eyes!
Our thanks to Chef Buddy and Restaurant Manager Bobby at the Plano Benihana for talking to us about the Teppanyaki Style of Cooking.