There are few things in the culinary world more ridiculously corny, and yet as comfortingly appealing, as the Japanese hibachi restaurant. First popularized 50 years ago by the now-ubiquitous Benihana chain, the hibachi experience changes little from city to city, and from generation to generation. Diners still sit family-style, around an open, hibachi grill. After placing your order – chicken or beef or shrimp or some combination therein – a chef emerges and starts slicing, dicing and cracking so-lame-they-are-brilliant jokes for your entertainment.
Yet no matter how many times I’ve seen the same tricks – the egg that is tossed into the air, but magically lands in the chef’s shirt pocket; the stack of onion slices set afire, so that steam pours out of the center like a locomotive – the best hibachi restaurants nonetheless make me feel like a wide-eyed little kid all over again. Sure it’s goofy and trite, but it’s also a fantastic way to enjoy a night out with a large group of friends or to celebrate a birthday or graduation.
Although Fort Worth doesn’t have a Benihana (the closest ones are in Las Colinas and Plano), there are a number of locally-owned hibachi restaurants that serve up all the familiar charms. Located at Bryant Irvin Road and Loop 820, Edohana offers both a hibachi and a full sushi / sashimi menu. (A second Edohana, on Hulen Street, only offers sushi.) Meanwhile, Japanese Palace – the very first restaurant to introduce the hibachi concept to Fort Worth – continues strong after nearly 40 years in business.
And for a more upscale than usual hibachi experience, point the car north to Hanabi Hibachi and Sushi, located near Alliance Town Center. The large, handsomely decorated space is divided between hibachi seating and traditional restaurant seating. There is also a swanky bar near the front, where each weekday afternoon you can take advantage of happy hour specials, from sake to sushi.
But it was the hibachi experience we were after, and on our recent lunchtime visit, Hanabi did not disappoint. Our meal started with a simple miso broth, mildly flavored with scallions and slices of dried mushrooms. We especially liked the salad that followed, crisp iceberg lettuce tossed in a gently sweet vinaigrette.
Then came the main event. Our chef sent eggs sailing through the air (and – in one mishap – sent one falling to the floor). He worked lively wonders with the flames, frequently shooting them high into the air.
And our main courses proved far more refined than you often find at hibachi restaurants. The fried rice, easy on both the butter and the soy sauce, was a light variation on what can often be a greasy, glommy mess. My scallops were flawlessly cooked, charred on the exterior, silky soft on the inside. My companion’s filet mignon tossed was juicy and buttery, lightly coated in a sauce that strikes a fine balance between salty and sweet.
All told, it proved a perfect break from the grind of our workweeks: We left with our bellies full and smiles on our faces. The hibachi tradition may be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, but some things never get old.