My parents used to take us out for teppanyaki for birthdays and special occasions, like the end of exams. So I felt the need to go out for teppanyaki today (well, yesterday by now…). I didn’t particularly want to be wandering around Downtown LA in the wee hours, so we couldn’t try the grill at the New Otani in Little Tokyo.

Instead, we headed for our local branch of Benihana in Santa Monica. Completely different atmosphere to the teppanyaki restaurants of my childhood. It’s an open-concept space (or is that open-space concept; couldn’t care less), which along with the high volume of customers and high turnover rate, takes some of the cosiness away from the experience. Sure, I could have looked for a more intimate dining experience. But I really wanted teppanyaki for my final hurrah and farewell to my youth. Plus, it was P’s first foray into the world of teppanyaki dining, so somewhere he could feel comfortable was also important.

Because of the way they seated different groups at the same table, we didn’t feel it would be right to take photos of the evening. Which was a real shame. Every teppanyaki chef has his/her own style and little gimmick. Our chef tonight had two little tricks I’d never seen before. First, he turned our fried rice into a beating heart, earning him delighted claps from the two of us (boy were we seated at a table of jaded or too-cool-to-smile Angelinos). Then he amused the kid in me by turning mere rings of onions into a smoking volcano. It’s these little things that make teppanyaki so fun for me. Of course, the squid was perfectly tender, the prawns just so, the scallops tasty and the filet mignon just the right side of bloody. It may be a chain, but our chef for the evening was as good as any posh teppanyaki restaurant’s.

And may I never grow so old that I cannot appreciate a bit of fun…


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