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TheMan,TheMyth

Eating at a Hibachi Grill

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I remember in the past having some great experiences eating at Hibachi tables. Whether it was with a table filled with friends or with total strangers I remember it being a very pleasant experience. I liked meeting different people and engaging them in interesting conversation while being entertained by a sociable grill cook.

Recently, I have been having some very bad experiences. At Mount Fuji in Rockland County there was one family that refused to sit with us. They ended up sitting at their own table without a grill. Another party of people stubbornly sat down as if they were being held under duress. I saw this situation at other tables also. One family was sitting at a table for a while and as soon as a another party of diners arrived they quickly requested they be moved to table where they would be alone.

It was the biggest game of musical chairs I have ever seen.

What your stance on this type of dining??

The Man, The Myth

TapItorScrapIt.com

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I have to be in the mood for it, and of course it depends with whom I'm seated. I've had some nice experiences at communal tables (a similar phenomenon) at places like Pain Quotidien when I've been alone or with one or two other people. One of my single friends even met a girlfriend that way, though in the end it didn't work out (but I hasten to add it was entirely his fault). But if I feel like having private conversation with the people I chose to dine with then I don't want to be at a group table of any kind. I think it's sort of like sitting next to someone on an airplane. If you're in the right frame of mind and your seatmate is interesting and also in the right frame of mind, you make a friend, your flight is much more enjoyable, and you even share a cab from the airport. If any of those factors is not present, though, it's a total nightmare.

Now can we also talk about these hibachi restaurants in general? Is the food ever good at them? I went to Benihana a couple of years ago for a business lunch and it was just awful. I did have a somewhat better -- though not affirmatively good -- meal at a hibachi place up in Kingston, NY, once.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I normally hate inserting myself into other people's dining experiences. Even if they are talking about something I know, I really don't think they want a complete stranger addressing them. In a normal restaurant the idea repulses me.

Hibachi is a slightly different matter, partially because the atmosphere is built so that you are all watching a common "show" (the chef) and partially because its more of a social setting, like a bar.

Then again... who knows what THEY think. I suppose the key is to see where their eyes go. If its exclusively down to the table, or even just at each other, I keep my mouth shut.


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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I enjoy this kind of seating. But, of course, you know what you're in for when you go, so you shouldn't be suprised. When I go to the local Pho restaurant, I'm almost always added on to someone elses table. I've met some great people that way -- one guy in DC told me some wild stories about when he was a fighter pilot with the South Vietnames Army before fleeing to the U.S. I've also met some interesting people at Carnegie Deli.

(And as a frequent budget traveler, I usually stay at guest houses with long communal dining tables. It's a much better experience than the individualized dining at the higher-end restaurants.)

I recently went to Teatro Zinzani in San Francisco (I highly recommend it to anyone in town. The food is not great -- not as bad as I expected, but pretty good. The show was tons of fun.)

My date and I sat at a table with four other couples. Oddly, there all seemed surprised when I introduced myself to everyone. We then had a pretty pleasant experience together.

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Some years ago I went to Benihana in NYC (mid-50s?) with two friends from the City. We were sat at a table with a family of about 6 from NJ (parents, two pairs of married kids) and as we sat down they welcomed us, invited us to share the wine they'd already been served with, and introduced themselves in an entirely unforced way. We introduced ourselves and declined the wine. Then the father of the family said something like "Please feel free to ignore us if you prefer, but otherwise please be part of out family party for the evening." Well, we chose the latter and had an amazing, sociable evening. The food was good, no better, and I recall that it seemed like very good value for money.

Then I went to Benihana in London, England (almost empty, awful steak, awful service and very expensive).

For the last four years I've been with a golf crowd to a Japanese steak house in Myrtle Beach SC, usually about 6 or 7 of us. I keep saying I won't go again. They have an excellent sushi bar, and we usually have some sushi and sake when we arrive, becasue the place is always packed and we have to wait.

Typically, we'll then share a hibachi with one or two other couples. I think they're generally "swamped" by our style, and the social aspect always seems strained.

The food has been very mixed. The part of the meal I've always enjoyed most has been the rice, which is tasty and well cooked. The steak is pretty tasteless, and the theory of getting it cooked exactly as you want doesn't seem to work. I somehow feel obliged to eat the meat very quickly, because otherwise it's overcooking. I've also tried chicken, but that always seems tough.

Altogether, I don't eating that way, and I guess that the "show" by the chef is concentrated on more than the quality of the ingredients. If I want to have a cook-it-yourself meal, I prefer a Swiss fondue.

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TMTM, in every case you mentioned, it was the other folks who had the problem. Why waste time worrying about those idiots?

Sorry for the bad grammar, but: I and Paul (hubby) both LOVE to be seated with strangers at communal tables. If the general ethos is for talking and sharing, boy, do we ever. If it isn't (e.g., at Le Pain Quotidien), we won't go beyond "Would you please pass the butter." We love being seated at large round table when we go for dim sum, even though the table might become all round-eyes -- we can see what other peoople eat and ask them about it.

On our recent vacation, we stayed and ate dinner at a place where most guests were seated with others. By our second night we learned: if you want wine with dinner, buy a bottle and offer some to your tablemates.

"Man is a social animal" -- Spinoza

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Last week, I ate at a Japanese restuarant in Myrtle Beach, SC where the chefs are known for putting on a good show. This girl who I could tell was there before was so rude and snotty. Her nose was turned up so high in the air I was afraid the grill's overhead fans would shred it to bits.

She was the only one at the table who kept her back turned to the chef the entire meal. She was annoyed that the conversation she was having with her mother was disrupted by the chef's presentation. She kept making faces at him. The chef tried to get her attention the entire night. One time while seasoning the food with pepper he threw the shaker up so high he intentionally covered the girl's hair and clothes with pepper. She was pissed. The rest of us had a good laugh. People like this should know better not to dine in this type of restaurant.

The Man, The Myth

TapItorScrapIt.com

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Well what a coincidence. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant..... but did yours have this separate sushi bar like mine, TMTM ? Do you know the name of the one you went to ? Might ring a bell.

I've always been there at the end of February when we have our golf trip.

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I like the communal tables at these "Japanese steak houses", don't particularly care for the food , but the atmosphere is usually good. These are the restaurants I would take friends who were visiting from Japan to, they always got a kick out of it. I have had good tables and bad tables, sometimes the chef is chatty and he can help break the ice. I don't understand those people who are so rude and won't even acknowledge your prescence at the table, why don't they sit in the dining room or sushi bar? If they wanted a private dinner why would they choose this kind of restaurant?

One of the best ones I have been to was when I was living in Maui, it was somehting like Kobe steak house, definitely Kobe in the name. About 95% of the restaurant is tourists and the chef usually starts by asking people where they are from and it really gets the conversation going.

In Japan where communal tables can be the norm is smaller establishments, no one talks to their neighbor, not even a glance or a cursory nod as they sit down. But then there are the very samll izakaya, usually seating under ten people that can be a lot of fun especially if the mama-san (female owner/chef) is very lively. I have spent hours (way back before kids) in these type of establishments conversing and laughing with complete strangers.


Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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A quick search turns up -- amazingly -- three hibachi places in the Myrtle Beach area. Their names are:

Jimmy's Japanese Hibachi

Miyabi Kyoto

Sugami's

Any of those ring a bell?

By the way why is this thing called a hibachi when it's just a griddle?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well what a coincidence. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant..... but did yours have this separate sushi bar like mine, TMTM ? Do you know the name of the one you went to  ? Might ring a bell.

I've always been there at the end of February when we have our golf trip.

The name is Yamato Japanese Steakhouse. It is located in Broadway at the Beach.

The Man, The Myth

TapItorScrapIt.com

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I like the atmosphere of this kind of dining if we are in the mood to socialize. We dined at Benihana's in London England, and while the food sucked, more or less, our dining companions were great.


Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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The name is Yamato Japanese Steakhouse.  It is located in Broadway at the Beach.

Nahh, mine was Miyabi Kyoto. OK, next year I'll try to talk the guys into Yamato (assuming you're saying it's good). :raz:

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I went to a Benihanna down in LA recently for the first time. We got a chef that had a blue hat (I think there is some kind of ranking system) and he was not very good. He didnt talk much at all and he missed some tricks. The food was pretty disapointing too.

I would be interested in trying out other styles of communal dining such as shabu shabu or the like. I really need to eat at the big table at Salumi sometime.

Ben


Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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I completely agree with most of what's been said already. It ALL depends on who you sit with and what your respective moods are. Of course, I do NOT think it makes much sense for people in a bad mood to go out for something like hibachi, but that's another issue altogether.

Some memorable shared tables:

The very first night after moving to El Paso, TX my family went to a hibachi place and started chatting it up with the people at our table (who immediately recognized that we weren't from the area). Turns out that they lived literally on the next street over from our new home and I remained very good friends with them for the three years I lived there.

Tad's by Times Square. Just part of a VERY surreal and complicated evening (which half-explains why I was at Tad's, though the food wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting). A friend and I shared a table with a young boy from Argentina and the man who was pretty obviously a card-carrying N.A.M.B.L.A. member. Talk about awkward!

An udon shop in Boston. There were three picnic tables with HUGE lines of people waiting for available seats on a Saturday morning. I tend to eat my noodles pretty slowly, so my two fast-eating buddies were out of there looooong before I was done eating. Of course, I took my time because there were plenty of interesting people I hadn't spoken with a million times already (AND I had the car keys).

Side note: I don't think hibachi's actually intended to have any flavor and the chefs' routines all seem VERY routine, but for some reason I still always seem to have a good time when I'm at a hibachi table. Something about the kitschiness of it all maybe?

Side side note to TMTM: Mount Fuji's a weird place. I remember the days when I could go there and expect to see a couple of birthdays. Now it seems that EVERY SINGLE TABLE is having a birthday!! They have at least one employee whose job is JUST to do the little "Bonzai!!" thing they do for birthdays and the poor man looks like he wants to shoot himself. It just does strange things for the atmosphere, but on the other hand, I do enjoy the pretty Ukrainian ladies taking drink orders!

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Side side note to TMTM:  Mount Fuji's a weird place.  I remember the days when I could go there and expect to see a couple of birthdays.  Now it seems that EVERY SINGLE TABLE is having a birthday!!  They have at least one employee whose job is JUST to do the little "Bonzai!!" thing they do for birthdays and the poor man looks like he wants to shoot himself.  It just does strange things for the atmosphere, but on the other hand, I do enjoy the pretty Ukrainian ladies taking drink orders!

There's a Mt. Fuji in West Orange, NJ, that does this too. I wonder if they are a chain?

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It's not a chain. There are 3 locations (West Orange, Hasbrouck Heights, and Hillburn NY).

I ate at the Hillburn location.

Mount Fuji

Route 17 North Hillburn, NY

Tonight, we set out for Mount Fuji in Hillburn in search of delicious food and great scenery. The location in Hillburn, NY is far more spectacular than its sister restaurants in Hasbrouck Heights and West Orange. A grand display of Japanese architecture, Mount Fuji, stands on a hilltop overlooking the Ramapo Valley. Since its inception in 1985, Mount Fuji, has captivated diners with its outstanding views, flowing fountains, and fantastic Japanese décor. You know you are in for a special evening as soon as you drive through Mount Fuji's grand entrance, the "torii". This "torii" is the second largest of its kind in the world. Stretching 65 feet into the sky, the "torii" exemplifies traditional Japanese design. After passing through the impressive structure you begin to travel a long and winding tree-lined road that leads to the restaurant. The long and curving trek makes you wonder what tempting tastes await you.

If you plan on visiting this restaurant I highly recommend you make reservations. This evening we chose to sit at a Hibachi table as opposed to a private table for two. I always prefer this type of seating when it is available. It just seems like the right thing to do. Not sitting at the Hibachi table is like having a Fourth of July barbecue inside your house. Although we arrived promptly for our 7 pm reservation we sat for a long time waiting for additional diners to fill our table. It was understandable to wait a couple of minutes, but we ended up waiting a good 20 to 30 minutes. When other diners did arrive I went from sitting upon Mount Fuji's summit to meandering through the epicenter of awkwardness. The party of six that arrived at our table refused to sit with us. They stubbornly protested with the host to move them to another table. Isn't it assumed if you don't have a large enough party to fill a table there is a good chance you will have to dine with strangers? After they left another group arrived. They too wanted nothing to do with us. We weren't the only ones who experienced this problem. I saw a number of people switch locations when met with strangers at their table. It was the biggest game of musical chairs I have ever seen. I couldn't take it anymore. I quickly erupted from my chair exclaiming, "Have you people no heart", "If I am sad, do I not cry?", "If I am wounded, do I not bleed?". I wasn't quite that dramatic, but I was highly offended. This would surely affect the insecurity and self-loathing sessions with my therapist. Oh well, hopefully the meal will not be so traumatizing.

We both chose to go with the Hibachi Specialties. All of the specials include a complimentary appetizer, soup, salad and entrée.

The complimentary shrimp appetizer was very good especially when dipped in the spicy mustard and ginger dipping sauces. The succulent shrimp were filled with that great Hibachi flavor.

The Onion Soup, a clear onion broth with mushrooms, scallions, and fried onions was also very good. I was a little upset with the type of bowl the soup was served in. The bowls' wide and shallow contour, combined with the tiny soup ladles we were given, made it difficult to eat this course.

The salad did not disappoint. The simple combination of lettuce, tomato, pepper, and red onion was accented nicely by the Ginger dressing.

For the main course, my dining companion had the Banzai Chicken, boneless chicken prepared with an excellent Teriyaki and Sesame sauce ($19.95). I had the Samurai Steak with Scallops, a USDA Choice New York Strip accompanied by huge fresh scallops, both prepared Hibachi style ($27.95). Both meals came with the traditional accompaniments. The courses include a large portion of fried rice, Asian noodles, sprouts, and a great vegetable medley. I was particularly impressed with the vegetables. Instead of just giving you the zucchini, onion, and mushroom medley that most Japanese restaurants give you, Mount Fuji enhances their medley by incorporating some broccoli, corn, and carrots. We were extremely happy with our selections.

I have noticed recently that a lot of Japanese restaurants, Mount Fuji included, have been preparing and serving all of the side dishes before the meat. They expect diners to begin eating well before the most important part of the meal arrives. I don't agree with this style of service. I always enjoy the meal much more when the entire entrée is served at the same time. I feel that although it doesn't greatly impact the meal, it has to have some negative effect.

For the most part, we really enjoyed our dining experience at Mount Fuji. We were very satisfied with the food, service, and atmosphere. Traditional Japanese culture and cooking makes Mount Fuji one of the most consistent Japanese restaurants in the area.

4 stars out of 5

Reviewed: 8/23/02

The Man, The Myth

TapItorScrapIt.com

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