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Teppanyaki, wrong or delicious?

teppan1

Teppanyaki, the showboating by-product of Japanese cuisine, either infuriates or entices diners. Teppanyaki generally caters more to Western tastes such as loose white rice heavily flavored with garlic butter, soy sauce and fried with egg right on the griddle. Meats, chicken and seafood are liberally salted and quickly fried. And an onion exploited right in front of your eyes to simulate a volcano gushing smoke and fire. It may be the “non-Japanese” of this all that does not sit well with some. To add to this, I think the last time I actually saw a teppanyaki chef of Japanese descent was in the 1980’s.

I could expand this topic to other dishes or dining styles that have evolved, and in some cases devolved (sushi comes to mind), but let me just stay on point with teppanyaki. Personally, I don’t need the exhibition of twirling, tapping, egg-flipping and volcano-producing, but I would be lying if a part of me was not dazzled by it. And if I’m sitting there with a bunch of friends with drinks in our hands, then game on.

Regarding food: one can typically order steak, shrimp, chicken or scallops (or a combination thereof) with a diner’s choice of steamed or fried rice. (If you are a vegetarian, you can get a generous serving of griddled vegetables or tofu.) I rarely order fried rice anywhere, but I always opt for it during a teppanyaki experience. I’m certain it is something about watching all that rice being tossed and turned with egg and onion, and then slowly transformed into a darker and more flavorful end product. I usually go with the steak and shrimp combination, and after they both have been salted, cooked to doneness, swiftly cut to bite-size pieces and served directly from the chef’s spatula onto my plate — I’m pretty eager to dig in.

teppan2To me, what makes the teppanyaki experience enjoyable is a restaurant’s commitment to high grade food products and good execution by the chef. All too often, meat grades can be so so and shrimp or scallops can be overcooked to a rubbery texture. But when done well, I can’t deny that I enjoy some steak and shrimp with fried rice.

So I wonder, does teppanyaki get a bad rap because of its “in your face” production? Does it seem brash/tacky compared to the austerity of traditional Japanese cuisine? Or do you think the food is overpriced (for what it is)? Just plain stinks?

Or… do you love it?

(All pictures/video taken recently at a friend’s birthday Nakato outing)

- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog

– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.

57 comments Add your comment

mattie51

July 27th, 2011
6:39 am

When I watched the video i couldn’t help but thinking……..the Japanese version of scattered and smothered???

Baltisraul

July 27th, 2011
6:46 am

Now that sounds like fun and I am sure it taste good also. This place is sure worth a try!!!

Dick

July 27th, 2011
8:03 am

Don’t know if you are aware of a program that Benihana has called “The Be the Chef package” it includes personal training in the ancient art of teppanyaki, as well as a dinner-for-four (or eight)with a performance by the recepient of the gift. I received this as a gift and dinner for 8. I received about 2 1/2 hours or training and then a few days later I cooked/performed for the party of 8.Great evening for all, and a new appreciation of Teppanyaki..

Reds

July 27th, 2011
8:18 am

I do think it’s a bit overpriced. BUT, I also love it. I don’t need the show all the time, but I do love the steak and the veggies. The overpriced i can take care of. That’s what coupons are for!

Ed

July 27th, 2011
8:38 am

Is it remarkable food? No. But, when I’ve dined at Benihana or Nakato, the quality of the food is first rate and the cooking was done with skill. My steak is medium-rare as it should be, the veggies tender-crisp. My parents, who live in a very rural area without access to such things, really enjoy the show when they visit. Plus, I signed up for the Benihana birthday “club” and was surprised to receive a $30 gift certificate for use during my birthday month. That’s pretty generous, and I used it the night of my birthday accompanied by some friends.

Jim

July 27th, 2011
8:40 am

Still a fun meal, especially for young kids. My favourite in the city is Nakato in Cheshire Bridge and they have an early-bird special.

TeachMom

July 27th, 2011
8:42 am

Nakato is my go-to Teppanyaki hang out. I go often enough that the show is old but you can’t begrudge others the experience. Their food is delish!

dw

July 27th, 2011
8:47 am

Its good stuff! Love it

Victor

July 27th, 2011
8:51 am

You people are inconceivable.Teppanyaki is not Japanese, it was made for Westerners occupying Japan after WW2 who refused to eat their food.

USMC

July 27th, 2011
8:56 am

“Teppanyaki, the showboating by-product of Japanese cuisine, either infuriates or entices diners.”

INFURIATED????

Are you kidding. What on Earth could be “infuriating” about Teppanyaki???

We have all become way too narcissistic. Get over yourself :-)

Bhorsoft

July 27th, 2011
8:56 am

It’s fun and it usually tastes good. However, I would call it “Japanese Inspired”. In that respect, it is no different than some of the “Chinese” or “Mexican” food we Americans eat. Tastes good, but not the “real” thing.

angie

July 27th, 2011
9:06 am

We usually go to Shogun in Lawrenceville. I love it and usually go for celebrations (like birthdays) because it’s fun. Like you, I usually get the steak and shrimp too. LOVE the seafood sauce they use :)

Matt

July 27th, 2011
9:12 am

Japanese “descent,” not Japanese “decent.” Has the AJC fired all of its editors? I certainly hope the chef you had was decent…

up north

July 27th, 2011
9:13 am

Nakato is the best! I remember many years ago, one of the chefs telling me he felt like he worked at a Waffle House. The comment about “scattered and smothered” made me think of that.

M. Johnson

July 27th, 2011
9:14 am

As you mentioned, very few Japanese chefs are behind the counter at Teppanyaki spots these days. The same is true for many sushi restaurants. I think that’s fine because it indicates a global appreciation for various cooking techniques.

Teppanyaki spots are fun, especially when you have kids or a large group. A nice spot in Conyers, ironically called Japan, is a fun go-to spot and the kids always clean their plates after enjoying a show.

I’m more bothered by places like Chow Baby that present way too many ingredients. In the end, everything still tastes the same.

Gene Lee

July 27th, 2011
9:17 am

@Matt – They did and they took the spell-check applications with them.. It has been corrected.

Lauren

July 27th, 2011
9:22 am

It’s a little cheesy at times but food is so good and it’s fun when you’re in the mood to stuff yourself. We got to an inexpensive place on LaVista Road past Northlake mall but before 285 called Fujiya. It’s not Benihana but works for us, they do take-out hibachi too.

http://www.menuism.com/restaurants/fujiya-japanese-restaurant-tucker-72212

katherine

July 27th, 2011
9:40 am

I love the food, but the cooking presentation gets in the way of that. One time I was with friends and the chef continued to tell us to pay attention to him and would even go so far as to put the spatula in our face until we stopped our conversation to watch him. I have never been back to that particular restaurant. I don’t want to eat my food to go, but I haven’t found a viable alternative yet. Anyone know of any place in Northern Gwinnett County that offers the food without the fanfare?

Foodie wish

July 27th, 2011
9:43 am

I think its a hoot…and the food is tasty

and I know of at least one Milton based celebrity (whos on a giant summer tour) that has one of his own in his ‘party house’ on his estate. He can have Teppanyaki any time he wants!!!

Ganners

July 27th, 2011
9:48 am

We enjoy going with out friends that have kids because it occupies the kids so the adults can catch up. I think the experiance has waned.

We went to Teppanyaki place in Frankfurt, Germany. Such a different take. It was not a fast wham, bam sizzled onion ma’am type of place. Our chef took time and care to cook and plate each person’s dinner. The plates were beautiful. The offering was not the standard shrimp, steak, scallops ect.. I got the veggie dinner and it was amazing. There was an orchid sauce with it. My husband had the scallops and there were kumquats and lychie fruit with them. The price was typical and was not a high end establishment.

Art

July 27th, 2011
10:02 am

As my son was growing up, he always wanted to go to “the place where they cook at your table” on his birthday. We always had a blast and the food was very good… even the little salad they served with the ginger dressing. The thought of it is making me hungry. We may have to go tonight.

Jimmyd

July 27th, 2011
10:11 am

Took my wife to Kani House for her birthday. The atmosphere was fun, sure, but the food left a lot to be desired. The shrimp and steak were both overcooked, and no one there seemed to care. So I paid double to get gray steak.

If I want that kind of food here in Cumming, I’ll go to Moto (by Hobby Lobby) Not much to look at, and it’s not true Tepanyaki. You can see in the kitchen, but no cooking at the table. But a filet mignon lunch, cooked perfectly, is about 8 bucks. My daughter is a Sushi person, and she loves the place.

There is another Tepanyaki in Forsyth in Cruze Marketplace on Buford Hwy east of 400. Went there once, ordered Coke to drink. It came in the little tiny bottles, and they ended up costing $2.50 a bottle. The food there is great, but paying that much for a few ounces of sugar water seemed a bit high.

I do agree though, that it can be fun, and I may drop a hint or two about the Benihana chef experience thing-I’d love that!

Old Boy

July 27th, 2011
10:17 am

Agree with Ganners. My 3 YO son loves the show, plus the kids meals are actually very affordable (about half price for roughly the same amount of food). We take him there on special occasions and he refers to it as “That place with the fire on the table!” Always a fun night.

Steven

July 27th, 2011
10:33 am

it is so over salted that to me it’s unedible

Carlaruth

July 27th, 2011
11:05 am

My friends and I were looking for something fun and kind of kitschy to do for some birthdays in December. I came up with the idea to have dinner at Benihana’s followed by coconut shell drinks at Trader Vic’s. It was met with overwhelming enthusiasm… the problem will be waiting until December!

Lorenzo

July 27th, 2011
2:09 pm

Japanese or not, it’s fun to interact with a talented and spirited teppanyaki chef, even if the food generally sucks. It’s too bad there doesn’t appear to be a demand for teppanyaki made with less bland ingredients than the typical steak, chicken, shrimp, etc. I’m sure a chef could toss around some pork belly, gizzards, maybe baby octopus, and, well, the sky’s the limit! Seriously, with the rising interest in Korean food, couldn’t this be a natural extension of Korean barbecue?

PJ

July 27th, 2011
2:36 pm

Am I going to eat at Nagoya (my personal fav – also great sushi) or Benihana for an authentic Japanese experience? No, I go there because it is fun, especially for my kids, and the food is yummy. “The place where they cook in front of you,” is my little one’s birthday restaurant of choice. With the portion sizes there, we always bring home plenty of leftovers – lunch for days!

David

July 27th, 2011
9:10 pm

Personally, I’m all for eating at a restaurant where the food is prepared in front of you. Having worked in restaurants over the years, and having read and heard the horror stories, I would almost rather eat this way.

Rick

July 27th, 2011
9:13 pm

The Mai Tai recipe used downtown at the Peachtree Center is out of this world. Who care about the food after that!

I’d be willing to bet we end up with Ludwick

July 27th, 2011
9:39 pm

I have visted these type of restaurants often.
The one thing that worries me is when I see then
cooking the raw chicken with the other items.
usually think that the chicken is too close to the other meats and
that the knife and fork are not properly cleaned before cutting other meats.
NOT SMART.

ken

July 27th, 2011
9:40 pm

Saw the plates and knew it was Nakato. The best hibachi in ATL, hands down.

Fred

July 27th, 2011
10:23 pm

Tasting one two three…….

Fred

July 27th, 2011
10:23 pm

Wow, wonder why my last comment was deleted………

Summit Dawg

July 27th, 2011
10:38 pm

Benihana in Alpharetta is the one for great food, fun, and reasonable prices….great for the kids & entire family!!! Ask for Suzuki!!!!!!!

BehindEnemyLines

July 27th, 2011
10:40 pm

You mean there’s something controversial about this? {rolls eyes} God save the rest of us from the handful of food snobs. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it. Pretty simple.

Stating the Obvious

July 27th, 2011
10:48 pm

@Steven: If it’s too salty, ask for less salt, and ask for low sodium soy sauce. Duh.

AtlantaDerek

July 27th, 2011
11:06 pm

been around for quite some time and WTF is wrong with this? good ole American ingenuity is what I call it…never go but that is my choice, like choices are what make our nation, stop with the BS, move onto something impotent.

JT123

July 28th, 2011
3:52 am

Jeez, who cares if it’s authentic Japanese food. Here’s a little hint: Nothing is authentic anything. Take Cajun food, it’s a messed up mix of Italian, French, Spanish, Native American, and African cooking. Food always changes, mixes, and matches and there’s nothing right, or wrong about it so long as it’s tasty. As for me, I think I’m gonna grab some fried chicken (originally Scottish) and waffles (from Belgium) slathered in maple syrup (an Algonquin invention).

Jenn B

July 28th, 2011
8:37 am

I love it. It’s a treat. I’ve certainly never sat there and thought “this must be what it’s like to eat in Japan!”. But, I haven’t been in years but I’m ready to go now. After reading comments about kids loving it, I’m excited. My son just turned three and I think he’d be absolutely mesmerized by the show!

carla roqs

July 28th, 2011
11:05 am

like it. scallops, lobster and steak (rare) rock!!

Gene Lee

July 28th, 2011
11:17 am

@I’d be willing to bet we end up with Ludwick

I don’t get your name :) but I do agree with you about the sanitation of it all. Or rather, I wonder if the raw meats, poultry and seafood should be touching each other and if the chef should be using the same utensils for all of them.

dyslexicbunny

July 28th, 2011
3:27 pm

Eh. It’s fun to go to from time to time but if I’m eating with friends, I want to talk with my friends and not deal with the chef in my face. I respect what they do as it’s quite difficult but my vote is often anywhere else.

Domburi Dude

July 28th, 2011
4:42 pm

The show is fun, and the food can be tasty, but it certainly isn’t Japanese. When I lived in Japan, the Benihana’s in Tokyo was called Benihana’s of New York (as opposed to the the American name, Benihana’s of Japan) because most Japanese people thought of it as an American take on Japanese cooking.

KEAD

July 28th, 2011
10:05 pm

Just a gentle nudge – it’s been over 24 hours, and I notice my previous comment is still awaiting moderation. I assume that it has hit the automatic filter because it includes links to other web sites, but they are supporting articles regarding the Benihana lawsuit against the blogger that gave the Kuwait location a less-than-stellar review.

Yuki Nakato

July 29th, 2011
2:35 am

Teppan-Yaki in Japan is a French fusion, usually with a prix fixe menu starting at 10,000 yen ($120). The novelty is eating in the chef’s kitchen where you see the quality of the ingredients, all the spices and garnishes used and the preparation method. You can see how well marbled the steak is and decide whether you want it just a bit on the rarer side of medium-rare and ask the chef to take the steak off the grill and enjoy immediately instead of getting a steak that was overcooked or became cold in transport. Teppan literally translated is a metal board and is simply a cooking equipment, Waffle House even McDonalds have metal cooking surfaces; the style and caliber of cuisine can easily transform with the chef and audience.

A Japanese chef started a Teppan-Yaki restaurant in Paris, called Aida, dinner reservation is impossible to make as local Parisians flood this small space for the live Homard-lobster flown in from Brittany. His store seats 20 people at most with predominantly bar-style seating around a Teppan grill. Mr. Aida is obviously very passionate about his creations, but a restaurant can only survive when there is an audience that understand and appreciate the chef’s passion and mastery.

Just as a sushi chef or a mixologist needs an understanding audience who is willing to step out of the norm (Salmon Nigiri and gin and tonic) and say, ’show me what you got’, Teppan chefs may need the same courtesy for his cooking skill and an audience that can say, “Ok, I’ve had the usual, (Steak and Shrimp combination) now show me what you got.” Perhaps you will be surprised what our chefs have hidden up their sleeve; one may see more than another volcano trick.

carla roqs

July 29th, 2011
8:31 am

teach, mr yuki!!

Jack B Nimble

July 30th, 2011
1:09 pm

Rocky Aoki, founder od Benihana said “Americans don’t just want the food, they want the sizzle”.
My favorites are Nagoya and Sake in Roswell.

Ed

July 30th, 2011
4:50 pm

To me the sanitation that I’ve witnessed has been exceptional. I also must commend both Benihana and Nakato for their respect of my severe shellfish allergy. All I have ever had to do is tell them upfront about it and my food has been prepared completely separate, even using separate utensils, from the rest of table’s food. It is great to enjoy a nice meal without that worry.

Deanna

July 31st, 2011
3:05 pm

I’ve always found these experiences to be a little embarrassing. I know that reveals a weakness in me, not necessarily the “Japanese steakhouse” show. I just prefer a little more privacy in my dining. (I also hate sitting at that hibachi with all those strangers!)

Doug

July 31st, 2011
4:02 pm

One step above carnival food … and just as nutritious.