Benihana - Newport Beach
I have never been fond of the cuisine at Benihana, that is, if you can call plain chicken breast cooked on a griddle and seasoned with little more than salt, pepper, butter and lemon cuisine at all. The onions, zucchini, steak, shrimp, and everything else you encounter is cooked pretty much the same way. Two separate dipping sauces, one a mustard, the other ponzu, account for all the flavor you won't get from anything alone.
But you go because it is something you have to do at least once in your life, if not here, then another teppanyaki, which are, to put it bluntly, kind of all the same.
This is theater more than it is a restaurant, and each communal table is the stage. The food you see are mere props, the chef the thespian and slight of hand artist, rolled into one. When you leave, you do so with a full stomach, but with the realization that the significant sum of money you just paid went to fund the restaurant's insurance bill and to watch your showman perform tricks he is required to do: twirling eggs, flipping shrimp tails onto his chef toque, creating a volcano out of a stack of onion rings.
I recently took my friends in what was their very first teppanyaki outing. We had a fine time. But I found myself more fascinated about our chef than his performance. His name was Pablo and he was from Oaxaca. If it wouldn't have gotten him fired, I would've asked him to put down his spatula and just regale us with the story of his life.
Instead I recorded him on video, and clapped when he turned a mound of fried rice into a beating heart.
Meanwhile, at the next table, a young woman in a formal dress celebrating what I presume was a birthday got lemon juice accidentally squirted into her eye. She laughed it off, telling her profusely apologetic teppan chef that it's okay and not to worry about it.
Somewhere out there, Benihana's underwriters just breathed a sigh of relief.
4250 Birch St.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
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