Benihana once used the slogan that it was America’s most popular restaurant. Having been around since 1964, when the introduction of Japanese teppanyaki-style cuisine was absolutely unheard of in New York, more than 100 million meals have been served at Benihana locations throughout the world. Founder Rocky Aoki found himself in New York in the early 1960s with the idea of bringing Japanese cuisine to American tastebuds by combining good food and his idea of wowing guests with the showmanship of chefs that prepared your meal right in front of your eyes. He named the restaruant Benhiana after the red safflower found near his parent’s restaurant in Tokyo – Benihana means “red flower” in Japanese. After Aoki’s restaurant struggled in the early days to get customers in the door, a positive review by a renowned food critic soon had Aoki turning guests away. Benihana’s has never looked back since.
Benihana’s is known for having a large steel grill (“teppan”) where food is prepared and broiled (“yaki”) in a style that Americans call “hibachi” that is situated in the middle of a communal table that everyone sits at while the chef prepares your meats, vegetables and seafood and also “performs” as a form of entertainment to go along with your meal. I can’t believe that with the popularity of Benihana’s, I’d never actually eaten at Benihana’s until last year. It’s not that there isn’t one by me, because the one we went to in Anaheim has been there for years. But I guess I always thought that it was kind of a gimmicky kind of idea and just really had no interest in going. But, after I had tried eating teppanyaki at another restuarnt similar to Benihana’s and discovered that not only was eating like this enjoyable, but the food also delicious, I knew I had to give Benihana’s a try. Once I had tried Benihana’s, I was hooked! It’s basically like 2 hours of enjoyment while eating your meal. While I admit that the food isn’t necessarily affordable, they do have monthly specials for 2 that you can order that are filling and help make the cost of the meal a little more palatable. This is certainly not an every day kind of restaurant, but a great fun place to go to for a special occassion.
On this particular evening, my husband and I, along with my parents enjoyed a nice night out at Benihana’s, not too far from Disneyland, Honda Center and Angel Stadium. It was surprisingly busy when we arrived pretty early in the evening. We ended up sharing our table with a family of 3 who was celebrating the mom’s birthday. While it’s kind of awkward to share a communal table with strangers, it adds to the experience of the evening. It turned out that this evening was also prom night for a nearby high school so there were plenty of tables filled with high schooler’s all decked out for prom.
By the time we sat down for our meal, I was hungry! It’s hard to walk into a place like this and not have your mouth water as you see other tables around you with their chefs already in the process of cooking their dinners. On this particular evening, the chef’s monthly special was hibachi chicken and steak for two. Both my husband and I ordered that, as well as my parents. As far as their teppanyaki menu goes, Benihana’s offers filet mignon, hibachi steak, teriyaki steak, hibachi chicken, lemon chicken, teriyaki chicken, spicy hibachi chicken, colossal shrimp, hibachi shrimp, colossal mango shrimp, twin lobster tails, hibachi tuna steak, hibachi scallops, salmon and calmari. In addition to teppanyaki though, Benihana’s also offers a variety of made to order appetizers, hand made sushi and salads. So, there’s a little for everyone.
To drink, my husband ordered a strawberry lemonade. Unfortunately, it wasn’t homemade lemonade, and it was strawberry syrup rather than fresh strawberries, but I don’t think my husband minded.
My dad ordered a mango lemonade. We had a great waiter who constantly made sure that our drinks were refreshed and filled. No one at our table had a drink run out completely before the waiter was there with a fresh refill.
When you order an entree at Benihana’s your meal automatically comes with a bowl of Benihana onion soup as a starter. The soup is a very light broth that simply has thinly sliced onions and scallions. It’s tasty and flavorful and yet light and refreshing. It’s a great way to start off the meal.
After the soup comes a small Benihana salad made ginger dressing. It’s your basic salad with some mixed lettuce greens, red cabbage, sliced carrots and grape tomatoes. But, what makes the salad is the ginger dressing. This is a very classic Japanese-style dressing. And if you like ginger, and ginger flavored food such as myself and my husband, you’d love this salad. The dressing is tangy and a little sweet and mixes perfectly with the salad. Just a little dressing goes a long way.
Now it’s time for the cooking to commence. The chef comes to the grill to get everything ready. Each guest is given two small bowls filled with Benihana’s signature sauces: a ginger sauce and a mustard sauce. I find that I like the ginger sauce with seafood and the mustard sauce is good with meats. The sauces alone are so good that I could drink them up!
While Benihana’s entrees generally come with rice, you can substitute the rice for hibachi chicken rice instead, which is what we always do. It’s basically chicken fried rice made in front of you by the chef on the grill. The chef starts by cooking up some rice with some vegetables. Add a little bit of butter, some sesame seeds, salt and pepper and soy sauce. Then grill up the chicken and once cooked chop it into tiny pieces and incorporate it into the rice.
Then take an egg and crack an egg right into the fried rice. As part of the “show” aspect of having the chef cook your meal right in front of you, the chefs also like to play around with the food. In this case, our chef shaped our hibachi chicken rice into the form of a heart. Then he stuck his spatula underneath the heart and then pulsated it a couple of times to make it look like the heart was beating.
Once the chef is done making the hibachi chicken rice, he grabs a bowl and then fills that bowl for every guest full of these delicious rice. It’s so good that you just want to gobble it up. Often times, I can’t wait and end up eating it before the rest of the meal gets cooked. Add some of Benihana’s ginger sauce into the fried rice and it’s even that much more delicious!
Along with every entrée ordered, the chef makes a special shrimp appetizer for the guests. It’s basically grilled shrimp with some garlic butter, salt and pepper. It’s a nice warm up for the entrée to come.
Each entrée also comes with grilled onions, zucchini and mushrooms, perfect for the ginger dipping sauce they give you. Again, as part of the “show” the chef makes a volcano out of onion rings stacked one on top of each other to look like a volcano, then pours in some vinegar which steams and billows out of the onion volcano. It’s children’s elementary school science stuff, but still fun to see!
Then the cooking of the entrees begins! Each guests food is cooked on the grill top by the chef in an order he determines. The seafood generally seems to be cooked and prepared for those guests who ordered seafood first. Look at the size of that lobster and shrimp and scallops! I wish I had ordered the seafood.
After the seafood comes the chicken and the steak. Everything is thoroughly grilled, seasoned, and then cut up right in front of you. Look at that chicken and that steak. I can’t wait to dive into it.
After the chef cuts up the meats, he then serves each guest their entrée into the plates sitting in front of them. At this point, the chef is done with his cooking and the “show” and the guests are left on their own to devour their food. What’s great about Benihana’s is that not only is the “show” aspect of being entertained while your dinner is being prepared great, but the food itself is great too. All the meats are so tender and flavorful, the vegetables are great, the hibachi chicken rice is a hit, and the sauces are out of this world.
To finish off the meal, we’re all given a cup of hot green tea to wash it all down. I don’t know why I never discovered Benihana’s until last year. I know it’s been around for years and years. I guess I always thought it was kind of a hokey concept. But, this is really one of those places that you just need to try for yourself!