I was invited to a press lunch at Benihana in Midtown in mid-January, and I almost had to go. I’ve actually been to Benihana once in the past – remember BF (now exBF)? One of our favorite things to do, years ago, was to just take off and go to Atlantic City on a whim, and one of those trips, we took along his friend, who, on the way home, driving through the city, wanted to thank us for taking him with us by taking us to lunch. At Benihana. His favorite restaurant, I believe he called it. I recall the experience was positive, though I didn’t take photos and I didn’t blog it, but I had never returned. Upon hearing that they’d expanded and renovated, with a new sushi/cocktail bar downstairs and a small bites menu, and the upstairs boasting improved ventilation (so you don’t leave smelling like your meal), I really wanted to see the new look. Though I failed to take photos of it, I really liked the updated touches and the new layout felt a lot less cramped than previously. Win!
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Another reason I was excited to attend? Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai was in attendance, as he is the executive culinary advisor to Benihana restaurants. He has such presence! Unfortunately, true to form, I arrived late and missed most of his presentation, but I was able to still sample the appetizer he’d created for Benihana. Cercle de St. Jacque: live scallop; langoustine; calamari squid; taro potatoes; lotus root; black truffles; seafood mousse; white miso seafood sauce; chives. (I copied that directly from the piece of paper the description was typed on, so don’t ask me to clarify specific items.) I have to say, this was an incredibly light but complexly layered dish – every bite was different and delicious. I’ve been told they are seriously considering putting this on the regular menu… I hope they do, so you can all experience it for yourselves!
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After I’d ordered, I was immediately brought a bowl of soup and salad. With my limited hibachiexperiences, I knew to expect a fairly clear soup and a standard salad – and that’s exactly what I got. A nice palate cleanser to start the meal.
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Of course, what’s a long lunch without a bit of indulgence? When I saw this on the menu, I had to get it, and when I tell you what’s in it, you’ll agree: cucumber, elderflower liqueur, and shochu. Come on, that drink was designed for me, and appropriately, I loved it: refreshing and light, this went down a little too easy…
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I happened to sit at the table where Chef Jimmy took care of us. Please – if you go to Benihana – try to have Jimmy as your chef. He was HILARIOUS. Having been to hibachi a handful of times in my life, I know many of the jokes and tricks are all the same, and he performed those with ease and considerable skill. What sets him apart, though, and worthy of request, was his delivery. He was a total ham, played to the crowd, and he seemed to truly enjoy serving us. He clearly loved performing and he put his own spin on jokes, delivery, and just… really, I had such a fantastic time that even my jaded “I don’t really want to watch the show” self enjoyed it. Seriously. I cannot praise him enough!
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For my main course, I chose the “Ocean Treasure” – not feeling much like red meat at the time – which boasted cold water lobster tail, colossal shrimp and sea scallops. I was also testing to see how well he’d cook each item – seafood can be super hard to cook properly, and doing so while performing tricks, telling jokes, and all that might make it even harder. I was pleased that my scallops were the proper shade of done (which is to say: less than fully cooked!), and remained tender, sweet, while the shrimp and lobster were also perfectly cooked. I was very happy eating this – though I then thought I might have done well with some filet mignon too… ha! In any case, I ate all of this and was very happy with my meal.
I know personally that I’ve often scoffed at eating at Benihana – there seems to be a bit of stigma attached with it – but honestly, the food was pretty good and Chef Jimmy was truly entertaining. Of course, your experience will vary with chef – an inexperienced one might not cook your food as well as mine was – but if you like this style of dining, then I can comfortably say that Benihana does an excellent job and offers a wide selection of proteins from which to choose. The only thing I do note is that my dish was one of the more expensive dishes – in the $40s – but given what I received, lobsters, scallops, and shrimp (plus soup, salad, noodles, vegetables, etc.), I think the price was justified, and there were definitely cheaper choices on the menu in the $20 range. I don’t know if I’d personally request visiting, but I would be comfortable recommending Benihana if someone wanted hibachi, and I would definitely not argue against returning! I was impressed and can safely say that my opinion of Benihana has gone up greatly.
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And of course dessert – a small dish of green tea ice cream, which was a nice refreshing dish after all the savory food. Yum!
Please note that I attended this lunch courtesy of Benihana and their PR, but I received no monetary compensation nor was I under any obligation to post about this experience, positively or negatively. The opinions expressed herein are my own (and my stomach’s). Thank you to Benihana for their hospitality!